Syria’s Kurds on Wednesday handed over to Austria two orphaned toddlers linked to the Islamic State group, an official said, in the first such repatriation to the European country.

“Two orphan brothers were handed over today to a representative of the Austrian foreign ministry,” said Fanar al-Kaeet, an official with the Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria.

The children were repatriated via the Samalka crossing between Kurdish-held northeast Syria and neighboring Iraqi Kurdistan.

“The Austrian foreign ministry contacted us to take back the children on request from their grandmother,” he said.

In late August, Austria said it was preparing to bring home two young orphans of a female IS supporter, who is believed to have died.

The decision to hand over the boys — then aged 1 and 3 — to their grandmother in Vienna was made after positive DNA results and a court granting her custody, foreign ministry spokesman Peter Guschelbauer said at the time.

Their Austrian mother joined IS aged at just 15 years old in 2014, the year the extremist group swept across large parts of Syria and Iraq and declared a caliphate there.

Guschelbauer said at least three other children could be repatriated later.

Kurdish-led fighters have led the U.S.-backed fight against IS in Syria, expelling the jihadis from their last scrap of territory in the country’s far east in March.

After years of fighting, Syria’s Kurds hold thousands of suspected foreign IS members in detention and camps: men and women, but also some 8,000 children — more than half of whom are under the age of five.

The United Nations says hundreds of them are unaccompanied.

The Kurdish authorities have repeatedly called for Western countries to repatriate their nationals linked to IS, but they have been largely reluctant.

Germany, France and Belgium have however brought a handful of orphans home, while the United States last year repatriated a woman with her four children.

Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kosovo have repatriated dozens of women and children.


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