Defence Secretary: UK may not be able to convict IS fighters who fled to Syria

The Defence Secretary has said it may not be possible to convict Islamic State fighters and their families who fled Britain for Syria even if they were returned to the UK.

Ben Wallace warned that the former jihadis could end up “living next door” as the evidence required for prosecution would belong to another country.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, he said that if he brought someone back against their will he would be “guilty of rendition”.

“Under international law I can’t just swoop into a country and grab someone and take them out unless it’s done under extradition.

“We don’t have an extradition treaty with the Syrian regime, not surprisingly, and therefore it’s not as straightforward as just flying into those countries and picking people up.

“Because the first thing that will happen is when they do come back here for trial the defence will be ‘you illegally rendered me’ and we won’t be able to convict them – and that’s often forgotten in that debate about ‘just bring everyone back’.”

Mr Wallace went on: “Secondly, sometimes what we know about those people, the evidence is not able to be put to a court because it belongs to another country – it’s intelligence which belongs to somewhere else.

“So the test often is ‘okay, well let’s bring them all back, if we could, which we couldn’t because of rendition, but if we could… and I was prepared to put at risk British soldiers and civil servants to wander around those camps finding people.

“You could do all of that but you might not be able to convict them – and then let’s see how many people want those people to live next door to them.”

It follows reports in The Sun that up to 600 IS fighters and their family members are in line to return to Britain from refugee camps in Syria – amid a Cabinet split over the issue.

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