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What we know about the Irish citizen captured in Syria allegedly fighting for Islamic State

A US-backed group yesterday said that it had captured an Irish citizen fighting for Islamic State in Syria.

File photo - Still image taken from an ISIS propaganda video showing Islamic State militants firing a heavy machine gun
File photo - Still image taken from an ISIS propaganda video showing Islamic State militants firing a heavy machine gun
Image: Handout/Zuma Press/PA Images

A US-BACKED group yesterday said that it had captured an Irish citizen fighting for Islamic State in Syria. 

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said that it had arrested five militants who had been fighting for the Islamic State.

It reported that one of these was a 45-year-old man originally from Dublin, Ireland.

So, who is this man and what do we know about him so far? 

RTÉ has reported that the captured man is originally from Belarus, but is the holder of an Irish passport.

It reports that he lived and worked in Ireland for a number of years, however, he left in 2013 with his family to go to the Middle East.

As of now, it remains unclear when and where he may have been radicalised. 

Speaking to RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, security analyst Declan Power said that he doubts the man was radicalised in Ireland. 

Speaking to the media in Mali, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: “The information we have is that an Irish passport holder, an Irish citizen has been taken into custody and is being held in Syria. We don’t have the details of what, so I can’t comment on it in any detail. 

“What I will say is that any Irish citizen around the world is entitled to consular assistance and will get that.” 

In a statement this morning, the Department of Foreign Affairs said it is “aware of reports in relation to an Irish citizen detained in Syria”. 

“Our missions in the region are making enquiries and will provide appropriate assistance,” it said. 

Who is the SDF? 

The SDF mainly fights against Islamic State and other extremist groups in Syria. 

The group, a coalition dominated by Kurdish fighters, has spearheaded the fight against IS, supported by several Western countries including the UK.

The international alliance seized the key IS holdout of Hajin in December after months of fighting that has seen the jihadists launch vicious counter-attacks

In the statement yesterday announcing the capture of the Irish citizen, the SDF said that it was carrying out operation Jazeera Storm, which has the aim of “liberating the last regions under the occupation of ISIS”.

“ISIS, which is now cornered in a small area after being cleared from large swathes of territory it once held, is suffering heavy losses due to operations of our forces,” the group said. 

It said that terrorist groups had been attempting to “carry out attack several times” to prevent the advance of the SPF.

Last month US President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of around 2,000 soldiers from Syria, deployed to support the SDF, claiming IS had been defeated.

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The Syrian war, which began in 2011, has caused more than 370,000 deaths and forced millions of people to flee their homes.

What happens now? 

As the news of the man’s captured first emerged yesterday evening, it remains unclear what will happen next. 

Power said that “it’s very hard to say” whether he will remain in Syria. 

“For the time being, I would say yes, all those captured will remain in Syria and they will go through a process depending on which jurisdiction they’re going to end up in or which jurisdiction they opt to go to,” Power said. 

“There’s a whole variety of scenarios, so it’s very early to see it based on previous experiences.”

Power also added that “maybe what we need to look at closely is the level of scrutiny we can apply to someone when they come to a State”. 

“If this individual had managed to obtain citizenship and yet seemed to have been engaged in activities outside of this State before he came here, it raises questions that are worth asking because this kind of thing isn’t going to die off.”

Reflecting on the situation, Power added: “It’s a wake-up call for us not to be complacent.” 

With reporting by Cormac Fitzgerald and AFP. 

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