Thousands sign petition against prosecution of Dutch ex-soldier who fought ISIS

The banner on the Justice For Jitse Facebook page.
The banner on the Justice For Jitse Facebook page.PHOTO: JUSTICE FOR JITSE/FACEBOOK

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Thousands of people have rallied behind a Dutch former soldier suspected of killing Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Syria, hailing him as a hero and demanding he should not be prosecuted in the Netherlands.

By Wednesday, more than 61,000 people had signed an online petition in support of Jitse Akse, who was arrested by Dutch police last week.

Akse, 47, who is alleged to have fought alongside the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in Syria last year, appeared before a Rotterdam court on Friday and was released on bail on condition he surrendered his passport.

"Dutch law - apart from in exceptional circumstances like self-defence - does not give citizens the right to use force and particularly not deadly force," the prosecution service said in a statement.

"Killing an ISIS fighter therefore could mean being prosecuted for murder," the statement said.

But furious supporters have flocked to his defence, with the launch on Friday of a Facebook page "Justice for Jitse" and an online petition.

Akse had joined "the global battle against humanity's number one enemy," the petition says.

It recalls that even Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said "we are at war" against ISIS, which has captured a swathe of Iraq and Syria as it seeks to set up an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East.

"Sign the petition to show your support for Jitse Akse and demand that he is not punished."

Prosecutors said that a police investigation is being carried out, after which it will be decided whether to bring charges against Akse.

"Fighting terrorism is not a crime," says the Facebook page "Justice for Jitse", which by Wednesday had received more than 23,000 likes in the past few days.

"He's a hero!" wrote one supporter on the page, while another said "this man really deserves a medal."

Akse himself, who left for Syria in 2015, had defended his actions on his Facebook page saying he felt he "had the chance to make a difference".

He had used his military skills of "flexibility, improvisation" to help the Kurdish people.

"When you see what they've done... by killing a member of ISIS I have probably saved dozens of lives," he told a local newspaper from his northern Dutch village.