UK split over whether to kill or ‘cure’ Daesh re­cruits

Al­most 1,000 Euro­pean women es­ti­mated to have joined ter­ror group


LON­DON: As hun­dreds of rad­i­cal vol­un­teers who left Europe to fight for Daesh re­turn home from the Mid­dle East, the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment is fac­ing grow­ing scru­tiny over how it deals with the wives and chil­dren who ac­com­pany them.

In June 2014 Daesh claimed to have es­tab­lished a caliphate across a large swathe of eastern Syria and western Iraq. It de­manded that Mus­lims ev­ery­where pledge al­le­giance to its self-de­clared state.

A mix­ture of hard­ened ex­trem­ists, con­victed crim­i­nals and vul­ner­a­ble young high school stu­dents from across Europe ral­lied to the cause, en­cour­aged by the mil­i­tants’ slick so­cial me­dia cam­paign and their for­mi­da­ble rep­u­ta­tion.

But as the true na­ture of life un­der Daesh’s bru­tal rule be­came ap­par­ent and the group grad­u­ally lost ground to an in­ter­na­tional mil­i­tary coali­tion led by the US, the vol­un­teers be­gan to trickle home.

Last week the Euro­pean Bor­der and Coast Guard Agency, Fron­tex, warned that hun­dreds of Daesh re­cruits drawn from the Con­ti­nent are women whose pre­cise roles “re­mains elu­sive.” This has left an­a­lysts di­vided over how the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment should deal with its re­turnees in the months and years ahead.

Scott Lu­cas, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham, told Arab News that Daesh re­cruits needed to be judged on a case-by-case ba­sis.

“Should they be al­lowed back? Should they be de­tained? Do we let them live to­gether in so­ci­ety? Or do we shun them? In my opin­ion, you have to look to some kind of in­te­gra­tion if they haven’t com­mit­ted a crime,” he said.

While lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in coun­tries such as Den­mark and Swe­den run re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and rein­te­gra­tion pro­grams for their re­turn­ing mil­i­tants, opin­ion in the UK is split over how best to deal with Bri­tish rad­i­cals who went to Syria and Iraq.

In De­cem­ber, Bri­tish De­fense Sec­re­tary Gavin Wil­liamson caused con­tro­versy when he told the Daily Mail that Bri­tons who have fought for Daesh should never “be al­lowed back into this coun­try.” His fel­low min­is­ter Rory Ste­wart told BBC ra­dio last au­tumn that “in al­most every case” the only way to deal with Bri­tish Daesh re­cruits was “to kill them” be­fore they re­turn home.

The re­cent Fron­tex re­port es­ti­mates that al­most 1,000 women from Europe have joined mil­i­tant groups in Syria, Iraq or Libya, with most of them fill­ing the ranks of Daesh. Adding to an al­ready com­plex sit­u­a­tion are “sev­eral hun­dred minors” who were born or brought up in and around the bat­tle­fields of the Mid­dle East. It warned that while the ex­act re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the fe­male re­cruits have proved dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine, “many women have ex­pressed the de­sire to take more ac­tive roles within Daesh.”

But ex­perts told Arab News that the UK would be wrong to try to ar­rest every ex­trem­ist who ar­rives home in the weeks and months ahead.

“Rein­te­gra­tion pro­grams are the way for­ward. If you put a blan­ket ban on all re­turnees as­so­ci­ated with (Daesh) and just leave them out of the coun­try, you’re not deal­ing with the is­sue,” said Lu­cas. “You’ll prob­a­bly feed fur­ther rad­i­cal­iza­tion by fu­el­ing their anger and es­trange­ment.”

In 2006 the gov­ern­ment of for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Tony Blair for­mally an­nounced a new counter-ter­ror­ism strat­egy known as Pre­vent, with the aim of iden­ti­fy­ing po­ten­tial ex­trem­ists and stop­ping them from join­ing rad­i­cal groups. The strat­egy has proved highly di­vi­sive, with crit­ics ar­gu­ing that it en­cour­ages Mus­lims to spy on each other.

There is still no ma­jor gov­ern­ment-run re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion scheme for for­mer Daesh mem­bers and in 2014 the UK passed leg­is­la­tion that al­lows it to strip ter­ror­ism sus­pects of their cit­i­zen­ship, even if it means they are left state­less.

Chris Doyle, the di­rec­tor of the Coun­cil for Arab-Bri­tish Un­der­stand­ing, called for the cases of all re­turnees to be as­sessed on their own mer­its. He told Arab News many Daesh re­cruits “be­came deeply dis­il­lu­sioned by what they found” in Syria and Iraq and should be care­fully in­te­grated back into Bri­tish so­ci­ety, while those who re­mained loyal to the ex­trem­ist group could be im­pris­oned.

“We can’t cre­ate a sit­u­a­tion where they feel they can’t re­turn be­cause there is no op­tion for them,” he said.

Last Oc­to­ber the So­ufan Cen­ter, a New York-based think tank, es­ti­mated that 850 Bri­tish Daesh re­cruits had gone to Syria or Iraq, com­pared to 915 from Ger­many and 1,910 from France. It es­ti­mated that 425 of the Bri­tons had al­ready re­turned home.

An­thony Glees, di­rec­tor of the cen­ter for se­cu­rity and in­tel­li­gence stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Buck­ing­ham, told Arab News that the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment was right to try to stop Daesh re­cruits re­turn­ing to the UK.

“We are talk­ing about highly dan­ger­ous in­di­vid­u­als who will have had bat­tle­field ex­pe­ri­ence and train­ing in ex­plo­sives. Their ‘brides’ may also have been rad­i­cal­ized by the vi­o­lence their hus­bands have been in­volved in,” he said.

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