Danish court backs decision to revoke woman’s passport for fighting ISIS

© Joanna Palani
A woman who left Denmark to join anti-ISIS forces in Iraq has lost a court battle over the confiscation of her passport. The 22-year-old, who fought for Western-backed Kurdish militants, has vowed to appeal the decision.

Copenhagen City Court found no overreach in the police’s decision to revoke Joanna Palani’s passport last October. The court said she had actively taken part in armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and had openly expressed her intention to return to the front line. 

Palani, a woman of Kurdish origin who came to Denmark as a refugee at the age of three, was first in the spotlight back in 2014, when she announced to the national media her decision to join Kurdish fighters.

“I as an individual can’t save the world – I’m not Superman. But I can contribute and if I know that something is very wrong and I know that I can make a small difference even for just one person, then I will do it. I would rather die in battle than on the run,” she told Politiken newspaper at the time.

Although Palani fought alongside Kurdish Peshmerga forces backed by US-led coalition countries, including Denmark, she came under the ‘foreign fighter’ law aimed at preventing homebred extremists from joining Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). The law, which came into force on March 1 last year, allows police to seize passports and impose travel bans for a period of one year on Danish citizens who are suspected of joining IS abroad.   

“How can I pose a threat to Denmark and other countries by being a soldier in an official army that Denmark trains and supports directly in the fight against the Islamic State?” Palani wrote on her Facebook page in October.

Despite her assertions that she was acting in the interests of Denmark while fighting in Iraq and Syria, the court didn’t take Palani’s side.

“She has never been charged or convicted of anything in Denmark. In each and every interview she gives, she expresses her belief in Danish values, and on top of that she is supporting a cause that we have gone to war for via the [international] alliance [fighting ISIS],” said Palani’s lawyer, Thorkild Hoyer, who added that she would appeal the ruling.

The so-called ‘foreign fighter rules’ were introduced to stem the flow of Danish would-be jihadists attempting to join IS. Last year, the Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET) reported that, per capita, Denmark was one of the primary sources of terrorist recruitment in Europe, trailing only Belgium.