With Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria leading to the escape of Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists from prisons guarded by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Greek security officials have been placed on high alert due to concerns they may seek their repatriation in Europe, using Greece as a bridge.
For this reason, counterterrorism experts from Europol will, according to sources, be deployed in the Evros border region on November 1, as part of the effort to tighten security and to intercept, with the help of European Police Service databases, jihadists who are intent on crossing into Greece.
Essentially, the measure is an extension of the institution of guest officers which came into effect in the summer of 2016 on the islands of the eastern Aegean, in the aftermath of the bloody attacks in Paris and Brussels.
The first contacts and negotiations for the deployment of Europol officials in the Evros region had been made in December 2018 between the Belgian executive director of Europol, Catherine De Bolle, and the then inspector general for aliens and border protection, Police Lieutenant General Zacharoula Tsirigoti.
Moreover, police sources revealed to Kathimerini that officials at the Aliens Bureau have updated and activated so-called “risk indicators” that are taken into consideration when newly arrived migrants and refugees are registered.
Speaking to Kathimerini on the condition of anonymity, a Greek official confirmed “there is concern about the repatriation of so-called foreign fighters.” He added, however, that authorities in the US and Europe “have information and are monitoring which European jihadists remain detained and which have escaped and may be attempting to return home.”
In August, the US special envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, announced that 7,000 Islamic State fighters were being held in northeastern Syria by SDF-guarded prisons.
An estimated 1,000 of these are European citizens who traveled to Syria in previous years to take part in the “holy war” of the so-called caliphate set up by Islamic State.