Re­turn­ing ISIS Ji­hadists Pose Long, Un­charted Chal­lenge

The Jewish Voice - - ARTS AND CULTURE - By: Abi­gail R. Es­man

For months now, Western coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­perts have sounded the alarm: as ISIS loses ground, for­eign fi hters from Amer­ica and Europe may try re­turn­ing home. When they do, the ex­perts cau­tioned, they will carry the terror threat with them, ready and will­ing to strike. Law en­force­ment needs to be pre­pared.

Now, with the fall of the Iraqi city of Har­ija, the Is­lamic State's last ma­jor strong­hold, and the im­pend­ing col­lapse of its Syr­ian cap­i­tal, Raqqa, the time has fi­nal y come. But is law en­force­ment pre­pared?

Not re­ally.

An es­ti­mated 5,000 Euro­peans joined ISIS and other ter­ror­ist groups since fi ht­ing fi st broke out in Syria. While some sur­viv­ing mem­bers may choose to re­main in the re­gion, or travel to other con­fli t areas like Afghanistan, a few thou­sand oth­ers are likely to try to make their way back home. In coun­tries such as France, Bel­gium, Ger­many and The Nether­lands, most of them are at the bor­der, where they will be taken into cus­tody and ul­ti­mately tried for terror-re­lated of­fenses.

But that cov­ers only those who re-en­ter through le­gal means. Most will try clan­des­tine paths. And por­ous bor­ders make such un­der the radar re-en­try dis­turbingly sim­ple, as smug­gling of refugees has al­ready made abun­dantly clear.

An on­go­ing lack of co­or­di­na­tion of in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity agen­cies among Eu­ro­pean coun­tries fur­ther en­ables ter­ror­ists to slip in un­no­ticed. Th t's what hap­pened with Me­hdi Nem­mouche, who shot and killed four peo­ple at the Brus­sels Jewish Mu­seum in 2014. Reda Kriket trav­elled twice to Syria be­fore be­ing ar­rested in March 2016 on sus­pi­cion of plot­ting "at least one" at­tack in France. And Brus­sels-Zaven­tem Air­port bomber Ibra­ham El Bakraoui had been pre­vi­ously ar­rested by Turk­ish of­fi­cials as he ttempted to reach the Is­lamic State.

"De­spite improvements since 9/11, for­eign part­ners are still shar­ing in­for­ma­tion about ter­ror­ist sus­pects in a man­ner which is ad hoc, in­ter­mit­tent, and of­ten in­com­plete," a 2015 report of the Task Force in Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ist And For­eign Fighter Travel said.

In a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of Eu­ro­pean in­tel­li­gence fail­ures, though Dutch au­thor­i­ties learned of that ar­rest through the FBI weeks be­fore the at­tacks, that in­for­ma­tion was never turned over to Bel­gium.

Such crit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence slips do not pose risks only to Europe. "The larger con­cern is that some Eu­ro­pean ex­trem­ists might be able to make it to the United States un­de­tected once they have left the bat­tle­fiel ," state the report's au­thors.

With visa-free en­try into the U.S. for Eu­ro­pean ci­ti­zens, such fears are not un­founded, and com­pound the threats posed by re­turn­ing U.S. na­tion­als.

Even so, some U.S. of­fi­cia cau­tion against over-re­act­ing to the threat Amer­i­can returnees may cause. For­mer Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per ar­guesthat most of the 40 Amer­i­cans who have re­turned from the Is­lamic State did so for rea­sons "that don't re­late to plot­ting" – such as home­sick­ness and family mat­ters. Oth­ers, like an­a­lysts at the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion put a greater em­pha­sis on the dan­ger from ji­hadists who never ac­tu­ally left the U.S., but were rad­i­cal­ized lo­cally or on­line.

But not ev­ery­one agrees. "Whether or not re­turn­ing fi hters carry out at­tacks, they re­turn with the pres­tige of war­riors and cred­i­bil­ity on the street," a 2014 RAND report ob­served. "Th y are able to re­cruit other fi hters to go to the Mid­dle East and they can gather like-minded groups around them." RAND po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist and In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter for Coun­tert­er­ror­ism fel­low Colin Clarke agrees, writ­ing in the At­lantic that some returnees, both in the U.S. and in Europe, may "at­tempt to re­sus­ci­tate dor­mant net­works, re­cruit new mem­bers, or con­duct lone-wolf style at­tacks," as some Euro­peans have al­ready done.

Tack­ling the threat, U.S. and Eu­ro­pean of­fi­cial agree, de­pends heav­ily on Eu­ro­pean au­thor­i­ties' abil­ity to im­prove their in­tel­li­gence ca­pa­bil­i­ties – a daunt­ing task at a time when ris­ing crime rates, con­cerns about ex­ist­ing terror threats, lo­gis­ti­cally com­plex bu­reau­cratic sys­tems, and in­ter­na­tional ri­val­ries con­tinue to draw on their re­serves. More­over, not all Eu­ro­pean states agree on the best way to han­dle returnees. While most are jailed and tried on terror charges, returnees to Den­mark, for in­stance, are placed in re­hab pro­grams that of­fer school­ing, job train­ing, and hous­ing, among other ben­e­fits – the hope be­ing that they will re­join so­ci­ety and re­form.

More­over, the EU Rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion Aware­ness Net­work put forth a se­ries of rec­om­men­da­tions in July for all mem­ber states. Coun­tries should:

• Cre­ate "re-so­cial­iza­tion" pro­grams for de­tainees even pre-trial.

• Pro­vide reli­gious guid­ance through "trust­wor­thy chap­lains."

• Em­ploy men­tal health ex­perts to work with those who may suf­fer PTSD or "dis­il­lu­sion­ment."

• "[B]e aware that many returnees – even if not en­gaged in crim­i­nal be­hav­ior – may still strongly sup­port ide­olo­gies op­pos­ing apos­tates, other re­li­gions, so-called in­fi­dels, women's rights and even EU so­ci­eties as such. Most have been sub­ject to se­vere in­doc­tri­na­tion. Con­sider di­a­logue, men­tor­ing and other tech­niques for returnees with such strong be­liefs."

In part, this care­ful han­dling re­flects the re­luc­tance of coun­tries like Den­mark to treat returnees as crim­i­nals. But as RAND points out, it also comes as a re­sult of dif­fi­cul­ties in as­sess­ing "which returnees pose a ter­ror­ist threat and which do not." The e un­cer­tain­ties could re­quire mon­i­tor­ing all returnees for in­defin te pe­ri­ods, rais­ing civil rights ques­tions as well as eco­nomic and other prac­ti­cal con­cerns.

Whether such care­ful han­dling will ef­fec­tively thwart rad­i­cals re­mains to be seen. Mean­time, U.S. of­fi­cial are tak­ing a dif­fer­ent, more puni­tive ap­proach. Sen­tences are longer – and can in­clude the death penalty, which is banned in Europe. More­over, EU laws can be vague re­gard­ing which po­ten­tially terror-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties con­sti­tute a crime. By con­trast, RAND says, Amer­i­can courts are bet­ter pre­pared for the chal­lenges of con­vict­ing returnees, thanks in part to the fact that in the United States, "pro­vid­ing ma­te­rial sup­port to a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, which in­cludes join­ing or at­tempt­ing to join a ter­ror­ist group, is al­ready a crime."

But for both Europe and Amer­ica, RAND sug­gests an­other al­ter­na­tive: en­cour­ag­ing returnees to co­op­er­ate with in­tel­li­gence agen­cies in ex­change for lighter sen­tences, thereby

be­com­ing valu­able re­sources in the bat­tle against ji­hadism in the home­land, help­ing to lo­cate and con­vict other ter­ror­ists re­turn­ing from abroad, es­pe­cially those who have en­tered il­le­gally. The e are the hard­est to find and pose the great­est dan­ger.

But even without co­op­er­a­tion from within, there may be other strate­gies. Rand's Colin Clarke cal­cu­lates that ap­prox­i­mately half of all Is­lamist ter­ror­ists in­volved in at­tacks in Europe had crim­i­nal pasts. In con­trast, oth­ers put the figu e closer to 22 per­cent. "Many for­eign fi hters be­gan as crim­i­nals," Clarke writes on Law­fare, "and many might turn to crime on their re­turn." In­deed, those seek­ing to fin nce at­tacks are likely to look to crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity – such as drug traf­fick­ing – to se­cure it.

Hence, he notes, "To root out re­turn­ing for­eign fi hters, au­thor­i­ties should fi st look to the un­der­world from which the fi hters orig­i­nally emerged. Crim­i­nals in­evitably re­turn to what they know best."

Clarke's ap­proach for Europe ap­plies equally to Amer­ica. Yet for all its prac­ti­cal­ity, the crim­i­nal el­e­ment also points to an ad­di­tional dan­ger: as Cana­dian coun­tert­er­ror­ism an­a­lyst Mu­bin Shaikh has noted, "pris­ons are a fac­tory for rad­i­cal­iza­tion. Th ji­hadis them­selves say prison is the univer­sity of ji­had." Should those trained in mil­i­tant ji­had find their way back into the crim­i­nal cir­cuit, that sit­u­a­tion could only worsen.

Ul­ti­mately, the prob­lem of re­turn­ing ji­hadists prom­ises to be a com­pli­cated one across the West, likely for years to come. In the face of an un­prece­dented terror threat, we have no map to travel by. But in the words of Swiss author Ella Mail­lart, "the sooner we learn to be jointly re­spon­si­ble, the eas­ier the sail­ing will be."

For months now, Western coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­perts have sounded the alarm: as ISIS loses ground, for­eign fighters from Amer­ica and Europe may try re­turn­ing home. When they do, the ex­perts cau­tioned, they will carry the terror threat with them, ready and will­ing to strike. Law en­force­ment needs to be pre­pared.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.