Kosovo women returned from Syria face house arrest

PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — Nearly 20 women repatriated from Syria were ordered put under house arrest after prosecutors said they are suspected of joining or taking part in the conflict there as foreign militants.

The 19 women appeared in court in Pristina, a day after 10 other women were also put under house arrest. None have been charged with a crime.

Four alleged fighters, all men, were arrested the moment they were brought to the country.

On Saturday, 110 Kosovar citizens — the four alleged foreign fighters, 32 women and 74 children — were returned to Kosovo from eastern Syria with assistance from the United States, the first such move for a European country.

Authorities say there are still 87 Kosovar citizens in Syria.

At the time of their return, the justice minister said the women and children were "innocent victims," and the state had plans to rehabilitate them.

The U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces militarily defeated Islamic State militants in their last territorial holdout in Syria last month, arresting hundreds of women and die-hard fighters in the last days. The SDF has also been detaining hundreds of foreign fighters from battles against IS and has appealed to their home countries to take them back.

Kosovo became the first European country to do so.

In violence in Syria, a mysterious explosion in the northwestern town of Jisr al-Shughur, controlled by insurgents, destroyed a building and damaged others, killing at least 16 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and first responders. The Observatory said the dead included four children.

The explosion was so large that civil defense workers spent more than 10 hours pulling bodies and survivors from under the rubble of a totally collapsed building.

The cause of the explosion was not immediately clear. But the Observatory and a civil defense worker who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media said they suspected a car full of explosives was behind the explosion.

Jisr al-Shughur is controlled by some of the more radical groups still in control in parts of northwestern Syria, primarily the Turkistan Islamist Party, foreign fighters from the ethnic Uighur Muslim minority.

Separately, in government-controlled Damascus, a bomb went off killing a civilian and wounding five others.

The official SANA news agency said the bomb had been placed in a car in the Nahr Aysheh district in southern Damascus and killed the driver when it detonated. The agency said an investigation is underway.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. The Observatory said the target was an official with the state's intelligence agency.

Bombings in the Syrian capital have been relatively rare in the past few years, particularly since President Bashar Assad's government last year secured areas around Damascus that had been held for years by rebels.

The country's civil war is now in its ninth year. The conflict has killed more than 450,000 people and displaced millions of others.