SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The South Korean government is looking into recent reports that its citizens were sighted among more than 1,000 wives and children of suspected ISIS fighters detained in Iraq.
"We are currently working with the Iraqi government, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and International Committee of the Red Cross through our embassy in Iraq to look further into the matter," the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday (Sept 12).
The ministry first learnt the news via foreign media on Sept 10, but said they are experiencing difficulties with the identification process as many of the detainees lack official documents.
About 1,333 women and children are reportedly being held in a camp under Iraqi authorities after the militant group surrendered territory last month. The northern town of Tal Afar, near Mosul, was considered one of the last remaining ISIS strongholds in Iraq.
The suspected Koreans were spotted among the detainees, although the vast majority of the group were seemingly from Central Asia, Russia and Turkey, the Associated Press reported on Sunday, citing anonymous Iraqi officials. It is unclear whether they were forced to commit or joined of their own volition.
The officials stressed that the women and children would not be charged with crimes and are likely to be repatriated to their home countries. Meanwhile, some of the captured fighters are being questioned while others had been shot on attack attempts after false surrender, an Iraqi military commander told the AP.
Iraqi intelligence is in the process of verifying the nationalities of detainees while its government is eyeing to negotiate with embassies for their return, according to Reuters.
The exact number of Korean nationals involved in the extremist group is unknown. Seoul's National Intelligence Service has previously admitted it is technically impossible to confirm an exact figure.
In 2015, a then-17-year-old South Korean teenager surnamed Kim made headlines as police here said he embarked to Syria via Turkey to join the militant group. Kim had reportedly maintained contact with a group member and displayed pro-ISIS group tendencies online.
Over the years, South Korea has been relatively out of reach from ISIS threats and attacks in both geographical and diplomatic terms, compared to other nations in North America, Europe and the Middle East.
In spite of this, the spy agency here said in June 2016 that the extremist group had designated several US Air Force installations and nationals here as potential targets for attacks.
Seoul's long-standing alliance with Washington is perceived as the main catalyst behind such threats made against south Korea.