Finnish minister to face no charges over push to bring home Islamic State children

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2020 Afghanistan Conference, in Geneva

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Finland's foreign minister Pekka Haavisto should not face charges despite breaking the law in an effort to quickly bring to Finland children of Finnish mothers who joined Islamic State, a parliamentary committee ruled on Wednesday.

Like other European countries, Finland has struggled with the question of what to do with its citizens who joined the violent Islamist movement that seized swathes of Syria and Iraq, and with their children who were born or taken there.

Many Europeans and their children ended up in camps in Syria after the group was defeated there two years ago. Fifteen children of Finnish women have been brought to Finland so far.

Parliament's constitutional committee found that Haavisto, who had pushed for the children to be brought to Finland quickly last year, had broken the law by trying to replace an official who refused to act. But it said the breach did not meet a threshold to press charges.

"I want to express a feeling of relief," Haavisto said after the ruling. "It was clear all the time that helping the children in distress was also our legal responsibility."

Haavisto says he pressed for quick action last year because winter was approaching and conditions were deteriorating at the al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria where the children were being held with their Finnish mothers.

The Prosecutor General has been investigating whether Haavisto broke the law by trying to replace the official.

While decisions by the parliamentary committee are usually unanimous, members of parliament from Haavisto's Greens group filed a rare objection to the ruling that censured him.

Parliament, which is likely to follow the constitutional committee's recommendation, will vote on whether to charge Haavisto. No date for the decision has been set.

(Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by Peter Graff)