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Trump to Europe: Take Back ISIS Fighters

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Herif Ahmad arrives at a court in Belgium for a hearing over suspicion of recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria and raising funds for ISIS. (Photo: KRISTOF VAN ACCOM/AFP/Getty Images)
Herif Ahmad arrives at a court in Belgium for a hearing over suspicion of recruiting jihadists to fight in Syria and raising funds for ISIS. (Photo: KRISTOF VAN ACCOM/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump called on America’s European allies to take back ISIS fighters who have been captured in Syria, warning the alternative is their release.

Trump was referring to the final operation against ISIS – the takeover of the last of the territory controlled by the terror group, a 700-square meter piece of land in Baghouz Al-Fawqani, a small town in eastern Syria.

At present, America’s Kurdish allies in Syria are holding about 3,200 ISIS prisoners. The prisoners come from 31 countries (excluding Syria) with family members from 41 countries. Talks were underway at the end of last year to discuss releasing at least 1,100 fighters and 2,080 of their relatives, as European countries unofficially expressed their unwillingness to take back their fighters.

Threatened by Turkey on the Syrian border due to the withdrawal of American forces, the Kurdish forces simply do not have the bandwidth to maintain and monitor the prisons these captives are currently in, not to mention taking care of the women and children and looking after their rehabilitation.

A Western official from the U.S. coalition force, speaking anonymously to The New York Times said what others were most likely thinking, “The best result of terrible options is probably for the Syrian regime to take custody of these people…If they are released, it’s a real disaster and major threat to Europe.”

Now that Trump pushed the issue, European countries are openly weighing in with varied policies and taking their first shots.

In the face of the Shamima Begum appeal (the teenage ISIS bride who left Britain when she was 15 and now wants back in with her newborn baby), UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid remains adamant the UK will “not hesitate” to stop the return of their citizens who left to join ISIS.

At the same time, The Telegraph, a leading newspaper in the country, posed the problem on the front page with the headline 800 jihadis ready to unleash Isil on the West.

A spokesman for Denmark’s prime minister responded to Trump’s demand with a flat-out refusal, but the defense minister said legally, Denmark may be required to take them back.

Germany stated if the fighters are German citizens, they have the right to return to Germany. German security officials said about 1,050 German citizens left to join terror groups in Syria and that close to one-third have already returned.

German Interior Ministry Spokeswoman Susanna Hartung said the fate of each fighter is decided on an individual basis.

“Wherever possible, the German authorities are trying to deradicalize returnees. Support services, such as deradicalization measures, but also socio-educational and psychological support, are particularly important for returning children who may be severely traumatized and for whom criminal proceedings are out of the question,” the ministry said in a statement.

And this is the crux of the issue. Clearly it is untenable that these prisoners simply be released but will fighters taken in by their former European countries be dealt with properly so they don’t pose a threat to the population, or will they be feted with ineffectual programs based on Pollyanna visions of deradicalization?

In Sweden, many returning ISIS fighters have been given “protected identities” by the government to help them re-integrate into society. This is despite the fact that those returning have gone on to commit terrorist attacks (in Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016) and that most of the European jihadis who join ISIS have criminal backgrounds.

Sweden’s reentry program includes free housing, a driver’s license and tax benefits.

“There may be criticism, but [I think] that you should get the same help as others who seek help from us. We can’t say that because you made a wrong choice, you have no rights to come back and live in our society,” said Anna Sjostrand, a municipal coordinator against violent extremism who initiated the program.

Back in the UK, Hanif Qadir, a senior expert with the government’s counter-extremism Prevent program, argues that Javid’s attitude will only contribute to the problem of radicalization of youth. Arguing in favor of letting Shamima Begum back into the country, Qadir says if kindness if not shown to her by the UK, more kids will turn towards radical Islam.

“Javid is fueling the [ISIS] narrative and giving wind to the sails of other extremists. If we continue with this trajectory we’ll be sowing the narrative for them to reap and use against us,” he said.

These are arguments from Qadir and Sjistrand are flawed at best; at worst, they’re deadly.

 

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Returning ISIS Fighters: Where Are They?

5 Threats Posed by Returning ISIS Fighters

Justice for ISIS Terrorists? Not in the UK or Canada

 

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org