ISIS women in Turkey set free after top appeals court sets precedent in conviction reversal

Abdullah Bozkurt


In a sign that the wives of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants would receive a free pass upon their return to Turkey, the country’s top appeals court overturned the conviction of an ISIS woman who had come back from Syria.

In a unanimous May 15, 2019 ruling by the 16th Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargıtay) that overturned a lower court decision, a woman who was convicted of membership in ISIS was ordered to be released by the court.

The woman, not identified in the ruling, went to Syria with her children to join her husband, who was fighting for ISIS. She ultimately lost touch with her spouse, who had presumably been killed, and decided to return to Turkey, when she was caught at the border. She was indicted and tried on charges of membership in ISIS, convicted and sentenced to prison.


The ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeals that set a precedent on ISIS women in Turkey:

16. Ceza Dairesi_2019_3467


The conviction was upheld by the Gaziantep 4th Regional Appeals Court on October 2, 2018 and was sent to the Supreme Court of Appeals for final review.

In a landmark ruling that set a precedent for all cases of ISIS wives in Turkey, the Supreme Court of Appeals’ 16th Chamber, which hears cases involving terrorism and crimes against the state, decided in May 2019 that both the high criminal court in the border province of Kilis and the regional appeals court in Gaziantep had ruled incorrectly in her case.

The judges of the chamber stated that the woman went to Syria at the request of her husband within the framework of spousal obligation, stayed with her ISIS husband but harbored only sympathetic views for ISIS. They said the lower court made an incorrect assessment of the evidence collected against her by investigators. They overturned the conviction and ordered her immediate release.

The precedent set by the high court is already having an impact on the cases of other ISIS women who were caught in Turkey. In January 2020 the gendarmerie detained four women, including the wife of Mustafa Güneş, a senior ISIS figure who was running external intelligence ops for the jihadist network until he was killed in 2017. The women, who went to Syria to join ISIS in 2014, were brought to their home province of Kocaeli for legal proceedings, but the judge released all four at their arraignment on January 21, 2020.


Four Turkish women who went to Syria to join ISIS were detained upon their return home but were quickly released.


In October 2019 Turkey repatriated 195 people from Syria who were linked to ISIS, many of whom were women and children. Most were let go after interviews with Turkish authorities. The lenient policy for ISIS women in Turkey also prompted non-Turkish ISIS women to seek legal residence when the possibility of deportation emerged.

Turkey is also seeking to repatriate Turkish ISIS women who were jailed in Iraq and is trying to find a way to facilitate their extradition, although the bilateral extradition treaty excludes crimes of terrorism. The number of Turkish women who are alleged to have been linked to ISIS is reported to be 250, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. Dozens of them were sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to life in prison after the intervention of Turkish diplomats in Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on November 6, 2019 that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s wife, sister and brother-in-law were in Turkish custody. Erdoğan made the statement after al-Baghdadi was killed during a raid by US special forces on his home in Syria’s Idlib province on October 26.

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