The issue of ISIS returnees

The case of Shamima Begum, an ISIS follower detained in Syria, has shown the conflicting political, security and ethnic considerations at hand.
Sunday 24/02/2019
A photo showing British girl Shamima Begum before she joined the Islamic State in Syria. (AFP)
A photo showing British girl Shamima Begum before she joined the Islamic State in Syria. (AFP)

The discovery of a mass grave holding at least 3,500 bodies in Syria’s al-Fukheikha, near the Islamic State’s former “capital” of Raqqa, offers a shocking glimpse into the extremist group’s shop of horrors.

More than 3,800 bodies have been exhumed since last year.

The latest macabre discovery only shows the world some of the crimes committed by the Islamic State (ISIS), whose defeat on the battlefield is near at hand.

There is fear in the West of ISIS fighters trickling back home. A heated debate was triggered by the US president’s call for Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back the more than 800 ISIS fighters captured in Syria “and put them on trial.”

In their reactions to Donald Trump’s call, European leaders showed no eagerness to take back nationals who had joined ISIS in years past. About 5,000 Europeans are thought to have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq. About 1,500 are estimated by police agency Europol to have returned to European countries of origin.

The case of Shamima Begum, an ISIS follower detained in Syria, has shown the conflicting political, security and ethnic considerations at hand.

The British home secretary used his prerogative to strip Begum of her British nationality on security grounds. The decision reflected fear-motivated expediency more than a well-thought-out strategy to deal with returning ISIS fighters. Other leaders in Europe seem inclined to take similar decisions.

Many of them, in Germany for instance, complain of the lack of information to investigate and prosecute the cases of the potential returnees.

It would be quite worrisome if the West’s decisions in this regard were affected by a breakdown or disconnect in security and intelligence cooperation within the international community and between the West and Arab and Muslims nations in particular.

Preventing and pre-empting attacks by ISIS outside the Syria and Iraq battlefields will hinge on close anti-terrorism cooperation between countries of the world.

International support for Arab countries dealing with thousands of returning jihadists is a particular area where this cooperation will be needed. The long-term implications of this kind of cooperation will be greater than Europe’s wariness about the unpopularity of seeing chickens come home to roost.

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