Turkish President Recep Erdogan said he plans to continue releasing ISIS members who are imprisoned in Turkey back to their home countries, in what appeared to be a retaliatory message directed at nations that have imposed sanctions on Turkey.
“You should revise your stance towards Turkey, which at the moment holds so many ISIS members in prison,” Erdogan told reporters Tuesday in Ankara, in remarks that The Guardian described as addressed to “European countries.”
The day before, foreign ministers from the European Union had agreed on a plan to sanction Turkey over its drilling for gas off the coast of Cyprus.
Turkey’s Interior Ministry announced Monday that the government has started purging ISIS fighters who were captured in Syria, beginning the process of sending them back to their home countries, including France, Germany and the United States. Erdogan spoke to reporters Tuesday shortly before boarding a flight to the U.S., where he is scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump.
“We have started returning Daesh members to their countries and of course there is a serious rush, things are flaring up,” Erdogan said ― using another name for the militant group, which calls itself the Islamic State ― according to The Guardian. “We will continue to send them. Whether they take them or not, it is not our concern.”
Turkey has maintained control over large portions of northern Syria since Trump made the unexpected decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in October ― a move that was widely seen as a betrayal of the U.S.’s Kurdish allies in Syria, who remain at war with Turkey. Many people also opposed the withdrawal out of concern that it would lead to the eventual release of ISIS fighters captured during the United States’ yearslong fight against terrorism in the Middle East.
Several U.S. officials have warned that the shift in American policy on Syria could result in a reinvigorated ISIS. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has become something of a Trump sycophant in recent years, initially responded to reports about the president’s decision to pull troops from Syria with concern about the reemergence of the militant group.
The withdrawal “ensures [an] ISIS comeback,” the senator wrote in an Oct. 7 tweet. He later backed down and offered support for Trump’s decision in an interview on Fox News.
During his meeting with Erdogan, Trump is expected to discuss U.S. opposition to Turkey’s recent purchases of Russian defense systems, a sticking point for diplomats. White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that Turkey may face sanctions for the purchases if the country doesn’t “get rid” of them.