A Madrid court ordered two Spanish women who married Islamic State fighters remanded in custody Wednesday on terror-related charges after they were flown back from Syrian detention camps with 13 children, legal documents showed.
They arrived at the Torrejon de Ardoz Air Base near Madrid late Monday nearly two months after the Spanish government agreed to fly them home from the notorious Roj detention camp in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria.
Detained on arrival, Yolanda Martinez Cobos and Luna Fernandez Grande were brought before a judge on Wednesday at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's top criminal court.
After hearing their statements, the judge ordered they be held in pre-trial detention without bail on charges of "joining a terror organization" — namely Daesh, which is the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
In his ruling, the judge said there was "a concrete flight risk given the serious charges against them," as well as an "obvious" risk of reoffending.
But he did not suspend their parental rights given that they would be in prison, which meant there was "no potential risk of them continuing the possible indoctrination of their children."
Their children are currently in the care of Madrid's regional social services.
El Pais newspaper, which interviewed the pair and a third Spanish woman at another Syrian detention camp in 2019, said Martinez, now 37, had four children, while Fernandez, 34, had five.
The other four children were orphans with grandparents in Madrid whom Fernandez had cared for in the camp. They, too, were now in the custody of social services.
'Unwavering commitment to IS'
In his ruling, the judge said the women and their husbands had been investigated in 2014 for their involvement in the so-called Al-Andalus Brigade. It was set up in Madrid to radicalize and recruit volunteers and help them reach Syria and Iraq to carry out attacks.
The pair "participated in activities supporting Daesh before and after moving out to the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone with their husbands in mid-2014," the judge said.
After they left, there was "no reliable information" about them until they appeared, alongside a third woman, in the El Pais video interview published in 2019.
Despite Martinez's efforts to distance herself from membership in IS, her remarks in the interview — in which she said they were given a house, and her husband got a job in the IS courts — told a different story.
"Her words gave her away, because only members would be given a house and a job in the administration" of the IS caliphate, the judge said. The fact she remained in the area "shows her and her husband's unwavering commitment to Daesh," he added.
Fernandez, he said, played "a key role among the women within the Al-Andalus Brigade." Her remarks in the same interview demonstrated a "radical and extremist internalization of Islam."
El Mundo newspaper said Fernandez was a widow but that Martinez's husband was in jail in Syria.
Third woman missing
In November, Spain agreed to repatriate three women, but the third — identified in the 2019 El Pais interview as Lubna Miludi from Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta — could not be located.
The United Nations welcomed the women's repatriation from the Roj camp. A spokesman described conditions in the Syrian detention camps as "almost inhuman and extremely challenging."
Over the past decade, thousands of extremists in Europe traveled to Syria to become IS fighters. They often took their wives and children to live in the "caliphate" it set up in territory seized in Iraq and Syria.
Since the caliphate fell in 2019, the return of family members of fighters either captured or killed has been a thorny issue for European countries.
The United States has pressed for repatriations as the best long-term solution and said it was "grateful" to Spain.
"We urge all governments to follow Spain's example and repatriate their nationals, especially women and children," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands have also repatriated relatives of jihadist fighters.