The People’s Protection Units (YPG) on Thursday announced the arrest of three men it said were foreign fighters with Islamic State.
Mohammad Ali, Dirk Richard Pleil and Ergün Orhan were captured during YPG counter-terror units (YAT) operations in the Kobane and Jazeera cantons of the autonomous region in northern Syria, the YPG said in a statement on Thursday, October 11.
Ali worked as a sniper and trainer, said the statement.
Also known as Abu Turab al-Kanadi, Ali is accused of recruiting for ISIS over social media and advocating for attacks in Canada.
“Turab was definitely an important trainer for ISIS. He said that he was training fighters in the desert for several years. Easily hundreds of fighters,” Amarnath Amarasingam, Senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told The Defense Post.
“He admitted to being a sniper and was a spotter, and also bragged about it online early on.”
According to the YPG, Ali, Pleil and Orhan entered Syria through Turkey in 2014 and 2015.
The YPG did not say when the three men were arrested, but Canada’s Global News reported on Wednesday that Ali, 28, was captured four months ago while trying to escape Syria into Turkey.
Global News interviewed Ali at a makeshift SDF prison in Syria. According to the report, his wife Rida Jabbar – also a Canadian citizen – and children are being held at a nearby camp commonly called Roj camp.
The YPG is a core component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the main U.S.-led Coalition ally on the ground fighting ISIS in northern Syria.
Not much is known about the other two men. Pleil “has been working within the ranks of the organization as a doctor-prosthetist but at times has been also directly involved in atrocities,” while Orhan was “active in Jarablus and Raqqa,” the YPG said, without elaborating on his activities. Pleil is a German citizen and Orhan is a “Turkish national born in Germany.”
ANF released a video interview with Orhan in March, saying he had surrendered to the YPG in Deir Ezzor.
According to Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of Foreign Affairs for the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, the SDF is holding nearly 900 ISIS foreign fighters, 400-500 of their wives and more than 1,000 children from 44 countries.
It’s unclear why the YPG announced the arrests now.
ISIS foreign fighters
At its peak, ISIS attracted thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq, but it has since lost almost all of its territory, including its de facto capital in Syria, the northern city Raqqa.
Since then, Coalition-backed forces have been detaining foreign ISIS members in both Syria and Iraq.
According to the YPG general command, between December 2017 and January 2018, ISIS foreign fighters from Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Albania, Germany, Sweden, France, the United Kingdom and other European countries were arrested while trying to escape to Turkey from territory controlled by the SDF in northern and eastern Syria.
On September 20, the DFNS said it handed over custody of Sudanese woman accused of belonging to ISIS to a Sudanese diplomat in Qamishli.
Some countries are unwilling to accept extradited nationals who fought with ISIS in Syria. The legality of any extradition process is itself unclear because they are held by the SDF, a non-state actor.
Samantha Elhassani, an American woman who traveled to Syria with her husband and children to live in ISIS-held territory, was charged with making false statements to the FBI. Elhassani says she was tricked, captured and tortured by ISIS in an interview with PBS Frontline earlier this year.
In January, the French wives and children of ISIS fighters captured in Syria sued the government for refusing to repatriate them. The French government has told The Defense Post that men and women detained in Kurdish-held areas of Syria should be held there if they can be guaranteed a fair trial.
Lebanese members of ISIS have also been transferred to Beirut, and a number of Russian wives and children of ISIS fighters have said to be sent home. The Russian foreign ministry has not replied to requests for comment.