'It would be better if they had died in battle': Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters

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'It would be better if they had died in battle': Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters
Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Denmark has convicted 13 people for travelling to Syria to take part in armed conflict. Nine have been sentenced to deportation from the country, according to Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen.


Poulsen confirmed information at a parliamentary hearing about Danish citizens who have travelled to Syria to fight in the country’s eight-year conflict, broadcaster DR reports.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen was also present at the hearing, which was requested by the opposition Social Democrats.

The two ministers were asked to clarify how Danish citizens who have participated in conflicts abroad can be punished under the law, and whether Denmark has discussed the issue with international partners.

Poulsen said that the issue was a complex one and that it would require several rounds of international discussion between Denmark and its allies.

The minister stressed that Denmark is unable to deny re-entry into the country to its own citizens, even if they have participated as militants in conflicts on foreign soil.

“The fact is that we cannot prevent Danish citizens from coming to Denmark, and that includes foreign fighters. The threat from returning foreign fighters is serious – that is obvious,” he said.

“It would have been better if they had died in battle, but unfortunately, not all of them did,” the minister added.

Police security agency PET has estimated that 150 people have, since 2012, travelled from Denmark to Iraq or Syria to take part in wars there.

Of those, one third has returned to Denmark, according to the intelligence agency’s assessment.

The accuracy of the PET figures is far from certain, Poulsen said at the parliamentary consultation.

He added that authorities were doing all they can to prosecute foreign fighters who have returned to Denmark.

Those efforts have resulted in convictions of 13 people who have travelled to Syria or attempted to travel to Syria, he said.

“Nine of them have had their Danish citizenships revoked and been expelled [sentenced to deportation, ed.]. Five of those had dual citizenship. The remaining four had Danish citizenship only and could therefore not be deported,” the minister said.

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