The United States accused Belgium of a "lack of political will" and urged the country to quickly repatriate Islamic State fighters of Belgian nationality who are being held captive in Syrian camps, according to an interview with a top U.S. official published on Thursday.
"The best way to prevent your terrorist fighters from returning to the battlefield or to a terrorist cell is to repatriate and judge them at home," the unnamed U.S. State Department official said in an interview with De Morgen.
"You lack the political will to repatriate them," the official said. "The excuse that repatriation is logistically too complex is not accepted," he added.
According to U.S. figures, around a hundred Belgian fighters have already been captured in the war-torn country and are being held in camps with low-security levels. Some of them have already been convicted, according to the U.S. politician.
The official said the U.S. administration stands ready to assist Belgium and other European countries in the repatriation of their Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF), citing security concerns over the situation in the overcrowded camps.
"They are not in highly secured prisons, but in provisional detention camps," the official said, adding that the U.S feared these camps could become "untenable," as several attempts to escape from them have already been made.
In past years, 292 Belgians have left the country to join a terrorist group in the Middle East, where 142 have already been killed.
'Locate, repatriate and prosecute them'
Citing humanitarian and security concerns, the official also insisted on repatriating women and children in Syria, the majority of whom are living in the Al-Hol refugee camp with an estimated 74,000 people.
The official said that the Islamic State (IS) was regrouping in Al-Hol, and was strategically using the women there, some of whom he said had already escaped from the camps.
"That is precisely why it is so important that European countries now remove the wives [of IS fighters]," he said. "Now that we can still locate, repatriate and prosecute them."
"If more escape, there are chances they will come back to Europe through the back door," the U.S. official said, according to the Dutch-speaking daily.
Belgium has recently started to repatriate Belgian orphans from Syrian refugee camps but has announced that no further repatriations are being planned, and some high-profile politicians have expressed sharp opposition to the repatriation of women and non-orphaned children.
"Children are victims, whether they are radicalised or not," the U.S. official said, adding that it was "frustrating" to see the European Union "do nothing about the humanitarian catastrophe" in Syria.
The Brussels Times