‘Brainwashed’ children of ISIS fighters worry Germany

Officials believe ISIS children could carry out attacks in Germany.
Thursday 15/02/2018
Time bombs. Head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution Hans-Georg Maassen. (AP)
Time bombs. Head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution Hans-Georg Maassen. (AP)

BERLIN - Germany’s domestic intelligence chief wants the government to review laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of Islamic State (ISIS) fighters returning to the country as “sleeper agents” who could carry out attacks.

Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV agency, said security officials were preparing for the return of ISIS militants to Germany along with potentially “brainwashed” children, although no big wave appeared imminent.

Nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join Islamist militants. As ISIS’s presence in the Middle East crumbles, some are returning to their home countries with family members.

Only a small number of the 290 toddlers and children who left Germany or who were born in Syria and Iraq had returned, Maassen said. Many were likely to still be in the region or perhaps moving to areas such as Afghanistan, where ISIS remains strong.

He said Germany should review laws restricting surveillance of minors under the age of 14 to prepare for the increased risk of attacks by children as young as 9 who grew up in ISIS schools.

“We see that children who grew up with the Islamic State were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of ISIS,” he said. “They were confronted early with the ISIS ideology… learned to fight and were, in some cases, forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners or even the killing of prisoners.”

He said security officials believed such children could carry out violent attacks in Germany.

“We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs,” he said. “There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks.”

Maassen’s comments were the first specific estimate of the number of children affected, following his warning in October that such children could pose a threat after being indoctrinated in battlefield areas.

The radicalisation of minors has been a big topic in Germany given that three of five Islamist attacks in Germany in 2016 were carried out by minors and a 12-year-old boy was detained after trying to bomb a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen.

The German government said it has evidence that more than 960 people left Germany for Iraq and Syria through November 2017 to fight for ISIS, of which about one-third were believed to have returned to Germany. Another 150 likely died in combat, government data state.

Maassen said ISIS continued to target vulnerable youths in Germany through the internet and social media, often providing slick advertising or age-appropriate propaganda to recruit them to join the jihadist group.

“The Islamic State uses headhunters who scour the internet for children who can be approached and tries to radicalise these children or recruit these children for terrorist attacks,” he said.