MOSCOW • Thirty Russian children whose mothers are in prison in Iraq for belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have arrived in Moscow from Baghdad, the Russian authorities said.
The fathers of the children, aged three to 10, are believed to have been killed in combat during Iraq's three-year war against the militants, a Russian diplomatic source said before the plane departed on Sunday.
"The plane of the Russian emergency situations ministry has landed," Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said on his Telegram account on Sunday, adding that it had touched down at Moscow's Zhukovsky airport.
Mr Kadyrov said the children's arrival was "undeniable proof of the rigorous fulfilment of the mission set out by Russian President Vladimir Putin to save the women and children in Syria and Iraq".
"If we do not bring them home, they will become the target of the special services of other countries," he added.
The children were taken to hospital on arrival for "thorough examinations", the press service of Russia's health ministry said according to Russia's Interfax news agency.
Mr Kadyrov posted a video clip of the children's departure from Baghdad on popular Russian network VKontakte, adding that 24 of them were from Russia's Dagestan republic and another three were from Chechnya.
Several thousand Russians travelled to join the ISIS militants in their once sprawling "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq, according to estimates from the Russian security services. Some took their families with them.
Since 2017, about 100 women and children, mostly from Russia's Muslim-majority Caucasus, have returned under a programme championed by Mr Kadyrov.
But in mid-November last year, Chechen activist Kheda Saratova accused Russia's FSB security service of blocking attempts to bring back the remaining widows and children of Russian ISIS fighters.
"According to our organisation, there are more than 2,000 of them left in Syria and Iraq," said Mr Saratova, who is on Mr Kadyrov's human rights council, at the time.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has held talks in Baghdad with Ms Anna Kuznetsova, the Russian President's envoy for the rights of children.
During Sunday's meeting, Mr Abdul-Mahdi said a "distinction should be made between humanitarian issues and terrorist crimes", according to a statement from his office.
"These children are also victims," he added.
More than 300 people, including about 100 foreigners, have been sentenced to death and many others to life imprisonment in Iraq for joining ISIS, the extremist group which at its peak controlled nearly a third of the country. Baghdad declared victory against ISIS in December 2017, but the militants maintain sleeper cells and have carried out periodic hit-and-run attacks.