Isis faces exodus of foreign fighters as its ‘caliphate’ crumbles

  • Court freezes Patience Jonathan’s $5.9m again

Large numbers of foreign fighters and sympathisers are abandoning Islamic State and trying to enter Turkey, with at least two British nationals and a US citizen joining an exodus that is depleting the ranks of the terror group.

Stefan Aristidou, from Enfield in north London, his British wife and Kary Paul Kleman, from Florida, last week surrendered to Turkish border police after more than two years in areas controlled by Isis, sources have confirmed to the Guardian.

Dozens more foreigners have fled in recent weeks, most caught as they tried to cross the frontier, as Isis’s capacity to hold ground in Syria and Iraq collapses. Some – it is not known how many – are thought to have evaded capture and made it across the border into Turkey.

Aristidou, who is believed to be in his mid-20s, surrendered at the Kilis crossing in southern Turkey along with his wife – said to be a British woman of Bangladeshi heritage – and Kleman, 46. The American had arrived at the border with a Syrian wife and two Egyptian women, whose spouses had been killed in Syria or Iraq, Turkish officials said.

Aristidou said he had travelled to Syria to settle rather than fight. The officials said he had admitted to having been based in Raqqa and al-Bab, both of which had been Isis strongholds until al-Bab was recaptured by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces earlier this year. He went missing in April 2015 after flying to Larnaca in Cyprus. Neighbours told the Guardian that he had adopted Islamic dress shortly before he disappeared.

A spokeswoman for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are in contact with the Turkish authorities following the detention of a British man on the Turkey/Syria border.”

It is understood Turkish authorities released the British woman from custody, although she could still face charges. Prosecutors in the country are seeking sentences of between seven and a half years and 15 years for the British man and the American if convicted.

The Briton could also face charges if he is extradited back to the UK. Any UK citizen arrested for fighting for Isis may face charges under the Terrorism Act, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Those returning from Syria or Iraq will automatically have their cases reviewed by police to assess how much of a threat they may pose and what crimes they may have committed.

Kleman converted to Islam after his divorce from his first wife, according to his mother, and moved to Egypt in 2011 where he married an Egyptian woman. After that marriage collapsed he moved to Dubai and married his current wife, who is Syrian. They had three children and Kleman worked in IT for a school.

Kleman’s family said on Wednesday that he travelled to Syria with his family in the summer of 2015 to help with humanitarian efforts. After arriving in Syria, however, Kleman said he realised that the information that had led him there “was all a scam,” according to his mother, and his situation became confusing to his family. They said he had recently been in contact with US officials in Turkey, and had planned to reach the American embassy there and return to the US.

Relatives said they alerted the FBI that he may be in danger about 18 months ago. An agent told them the bureau needed to check that Kleman had not become involved with wrongdoing, according to Kleman’s sister, Brenda Cummings, who said she “completely agreed” with their caution.

Sources within Isis have confirmed that the group’s ranks in its last redoubt in Syria have rapidly shrunk as a ground offensive has edged towards Raqqa and Tabqa in the country’s north-east, where foreign fighters had been extensively deployed over the past four years.

In the meantime, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has secured a fresh court order to freeze the Skye Bank account of Mrs. Patience Jonathan, wife of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, with a balance of $5.9m.
The fresh freezing order was granted on Wednesday by Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court in Lagos.

The new freezing order came barely 24 hours after the court had given Patience unfettered access to the seized funds.

The EFCC had earlier placed a “No Debit Order” on the account late last year pursuant to an interim order by Justice Olatoregun.

But Patience, through her lawyer, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), had challenged the action and succeeded in getting the court to vacate the freezing order on April 6, 2017.

The EFCC, which was displeased, had immediately gone on appeal and also filed an application seeking a stay of execution of the freezing order pending the outcome of the appeal.

But in a dramatic twist on Tuesday, a counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, appeared before Justice Olatoregun, saying the commission had changed its mind about challenging the freezing order and applied to withdraw the application to stay the execution of the unfreezing order.

Consequently, the judge on Tuesday struck out the application for stay of execution, giving Patience unfettered access to the funds.

The judge also granted an application by counsel for Skye Bank, Mr. Lanre Ogunlesi (SAN), that the Form 48 and Form 49 filed against his client by Patience to cite his bank for contempt, should be struck out.

However, on Wednesday, the EFCC lawyer, Oyedepo, reappeared before the judge with a new ex parte application to freeze Patience’s account afresh.

Apart from the Skye Bank account with $5.9m, the EFCC also prayed the court to freeze an Ecobank account, with a balance of N2.4bn, which was opened in the name of one La Wari Furniture and Bath Limited.

The anti-graft agency said the funds were reasonably suspected to be proceeds of crime.

In an affidavit filed in support of the new application, an operative of the EFCC, Musbahu Abubakar, stated that Patience opened the Skye Bank account on February 7, 2013, and used it to allegedly warehoused proceeds of crime.

According to Abubakar, the former first lady made several cash deposits in United States dollar into the account, through a former Special Assistant to ex-President Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, and a State House steward, Festus Iyoha.

He said as of January 30, 2015, the Skye Bank account had a balance of $6.7m but Patience subsequently withdrew it down to $5.7m.

The EFCC prayed the court to urgently freeze the account so as to prevent Patience for moving the funds.

After hearing the lawyer out, the judge said, “The order is granted as prayed.”

She equally granted the EFCC’s prayer to publish the order in a national newspaper and adjourned till May 15, 2017, for any interested party to appear in court to show cause why the money should not be forfeited to the Federal Government permanently.

Guardian with additional report from Citizen