Thu, May 04, 2017 - Page 9 News List

Islamic State faces exodus of foreigners as ‘caliphate’ crumbles

By Martin Chulov, Jamie Grierson and Jon Swaine  /  The Guardian, LONDON, NEW YORK and ISTANBUL, Turkey

Illustration: Mountain people

Large numbers of foreign fighters are abandoning the Islamic State group and trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Stefan Aristidou from Enfield in north London, his British wife and Kary Paul Kleman, a resident of Florida, last week surrendered to Turkish border police after more than two years in areas controlled by the Islamic State, sources have confirmed to the Guardian.

Dozens more foreigners have fled in recent weeks, most caught as they tried to cross the frontier as the Islamic State’s capacity to hold ground in Syria and Iraq collapses. Some, although it is not known how many, are thought to have evaded capture and made it across the border into Turkey.

Aristidou, who is believed to be in his mid-20s, surrendered at the Kilis crossing in southern Turkey, along with his wife — said to be a British woman of Bangladeshi heritage — and Kleman, 46.

The American had arrived at the border with a Syrian wife and two Egyptian women, whose spouses had been killed in Syria or Iraq, Turkish officials said.

Aristidou said he had traveled to Syria to settle, rather than fight.

The officials said he had admitted to having been based in Raqqa and al-Bab, both of which had been Islamic State strongholds until al-Bab was recaptured by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces earlier this year.

He went missing in April 2015 after flying to Larnaca, Cyprus.

Neighbors told the Guardian that he had adopted Muslim dress shortly before he disappeared.

“We are in contact with the Turkish authorities following the detention of a British man on the Turkey/Syria border,” a spokeswoman for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said.

It is understood Turkish authorities released the British woman from custody, although she could still face charges. Prosecutors in the country are seeking between seven-and-a-half years and 15 years for the British man and the American.

The Briton could also face charges if he is extradited back to the UK. Any British citizen arrested for fighting for the Islamic State could face charges under the Terrorism Act, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

‘ALL A SCAM’

Those returning from Syria or Iraq are to automatically have their cases reviewed by police to assess how much of a threat they pose and what crimes they might have committed.

According to his mother, Kleman converted to Islam following his divorce from his first wife and moved to Egypt in 2011, where he married an Egyptian woman. After that marriage collapsed, he moved to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and married his current wife, who is Syrian. They had three children and Kleman worked in information technology for a school.

Kleman’s family on Wednesday last week said that he traveled to Syria with his family in the summer of 2015 to help with humanitarian efforts.

However, his mother said that Kleman after arriving in Syria claimed to have realized that the information that led him there “was all a scam,” and his situation became confusing to his family.

They said he had been in contact with US officials in Turkey, and had planned to reach the US embassy there and return to the US.

Relatives said they alerted the FBI that he might be in danger about 18 months ago.

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