How should the UK respond to returning British Jihadis?

by Mirianna la Grasta

Featured image credit: The Economist, Dave Simonds.

With possible terror attacks being the most discussed issue of the day, the UK needs to face the question of returning British Jihadis. These are Muslims fighting in the name of the Islamic Jihad, a holy war against infidels,[1] that have radical views and believe in the use of violence in order ‘to achieve religious and political aims’.[2] In December 2015, it has been estimated that, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, nearly 750 British-born extremists have joined ISIS; of these 750 about 375 decided to come back to the UK.[3] An imminent problem is that some of the returning foreign fighters could pose a threat to the United Kingdom: in fact, ‘returning with combat

experience and training’, some will seek to engage in acts of terrorism.[4] As the experiences, motivations and beliefs of each foreign fighter could be different, and extremely personal, the UK is currently facing the issue on a case-by-case basis.[5] However, Britain has not yet outlined a one and clear policy in order to deal with the returning British Jihadis, but the recent series of attacks in Paris are pushing the nation towards the reassessment of its counter-terrorism policies.[6]

This essay will study the different ways Britain could tackle the ‘returning Jihadis’ issue, arguing that a case-by-case approach is the most effective one.

One of the first and more drastic suggestions is the banning of Jihadis from the country, putting them on a ‘no-fly list’, and therefore preventing the fighters from reaching the British soil.[7] France and Belgium, for example, have supported this policy, strengthening the controls at their countries’ borders.[8] Another proposal is the cancellation of their British passport if they have another nationality.[9] As Theresa May, the Home Secretary, underlined, the only limitation to this could be that, according to the International Law, those citizens who have just one nationality could not be denied their citizenship,[10] otherwise they would be stateless. Personalities such as George Carey, former archbishop of Canterbury, and the conservative David Davies maintained that it is important to deny both passport and citizenship to the Britons fighting for ISIS, even if it goes against the International Law.[11] Davies justified his position stating that ‘Democracies have the right to defend themselves’, while Lord Carey declared that ‘Young people who travel abroad to commit violent “jihad” should know before they go that there is no going back to civilised society.’ [12] Nevertheless, it is important to realise that, despite being considered illegal by the International Law, the practice of refusing re-entry to the British Jihadis could also have a negative effect on their behaviour, and thus strengthen their extremist thoughts. As a matter of fact, as Rachel Briggs argues, scared and disillusioned foreign fighters need support, rather than being considered enemies[13] or treated as ‘second-class citizens’.[14]

‘There is broad consensus that those who pose a threat to national security should be dealt with by the justice system and security services,’ argues Nick Harding.[15] As an illustration, a more effective response to the returning British Jihadis could include the limitation of their movements in the country,[16] as well as the interviews with the police, the charges,[17] the prosecution of those who have committed crime, and the application of treason laws for ‘the most extreme cases’.[18]  Both the UK Government and the police called for heightened security at home, and together with France, Australia and Norway, they mantained that returning Jihadis who joined the ISIS militant group should be arrested.[19] In particular, the South Wales Police argued for this cause: ‘Travelling abroad for the purpose of engaging in terrorist related activity is an offence and we will seek to prosecute anyone engaged in this type of activity.’[20] However, the resolution handled by the justice system is limited, because the latter is able to prosecute a foreign fighter only if it has compelling evidence that he has fought or committed crime abroad, and in most cases ‘there isn’t enough evidence to criminalise them’.[21] Moreover, as Charles Lister, author of The Syrian Jihad, believes, ‘prisons are not the best place to reverse radicalisation’, because, in some cases, extremists and radical networks find that prison is the right place to flourish again.[22]

This is the reason why the United Kingdom’s policy has been defined ‘counterproductive’, as ‘it criminalises every returnee’.[23] On the contrary, Britain should be more selective when treating the cases of the returning Jihadis, because not all of them are criminals and everyone has a different motivation: some of them went to Syria with a humanitarian purpose and others are disillusioned by the war, they regret what they did and want to go back to a normal life.[24] A great number of British people in Syria have good intentions, and they do not plan attacks in the UK, but some are scared to come back as they fear prosecution.[25] As William Hague states, it is important for the authorities to help ‘those who have genuinely given up the struggle’,[26] in order to give them a rehabilitation option.[27]

This help would consist in the creation of a national scheme. The latter should provide the foreign fighters with support for mental traumas and physical injuries, de-radicalisation sessions and reintegration programmes at social, educational and working levels.[28] This service should also assist the parents of returnees, as they could play a key role in the de-radicalisation process.[29] Counter-terrorism expert Richard Barret underlines that officials should understand the motivations behind each returnee’s path, thus helping the individual on the basis of his situation.[30] The forte of this project could be the fact that it matches the de-radicalisation of a person and his exploitation for a good cause: in fact, after being de-radicalised, returnees could influence other people to come back and adhere to the programme,[31] or could dissuade other people from joining ISIS.[32] Channel is a British tailor-made programme – led by religious figures, police, social services and psychologists – and it is currently used to cope with the returnees;[33] however, it needs to be ‘revamped’ on the Danish model of Aarhus, because it is believed that it does not have the right apparatus to challenge radicalised views.[34] In Denmark, for example, returning Jihadis are offered counselling and careers advice rather than prosecution, and this diverts them from extremism, pushing them to co-operate with the Intelligence.[35] Following this model, David Cameron maintained that the battle against extremism should be fought through intensive programmes of rehabilitation and the promotion of democratic values.[36]

returning1
Image credit: scoopnest.com

In order to tackle the return of foreign fighters, Britain should implement its policy with a further innovative step. Together with the implementation of a rehabilitation programme, the UK should seek a direct contact with the fighters in Syria. The latter could be accomplished in two steps. The first one is the creation of a clearing house in Turkey, near the Syrian border, in order to sentence and return the disillusioned British Jihadis: most of them, in fact, could not come back on their own as their passports, mobile phones and credit cards might have been seized by the ISIS group.[37] The second step consists in an information campaign to offer British fighters the returning options, and to convince them to face justice once at home.[38]

Another plausible response to the foreign fighters’ return in the UK could be surveillance, a policy already used in the US. Specifically, surveillance, being a ‘middle-ground’ between criminalisation and rehabilitation, can help the nation to control the Jihadis’ movements, and to recognise when they pose a threat to the country’s security.[39] Nonetheless, this resolution would require an implementation of the Intelligence service, because the current available staff is not enough to monitor the 375 returnees.[40] As it has been estimated, if to control one suspected subject for 24 hours a day the intelligence needs about 20 people, in order to monitor every British Jihadis in the country they will need several thousands, well trained, people, and this number is ‘well beyond the capabilities of the counter-terrorism unit’.[41]

Overall, the essay has analysed the various ways the UK could respond to the imminent phenomenon of returning foreign fighters, from the most severe responses, such as the deny of their citizenship, to the softer ones, such as the rehabilitation programmes. In brief, it is important to realise that Britain should not deal with this problem creating a unique and universal policy, thus applicable to all. Of course, the motivations behind the Jihadis’ path to and from ISIS are very different one from another, hence, these people deserve to be treated in a different way on the basis of their intentions.

(1447 words)

Bibliography

Journal article

Stuart, Hannah, British Jihadists: preventing travel abroad and stopping attacks at home, Policy paper No. 1 (2014)

Video

Express debate: what should we do with British Jihadists? (2014), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/525715/Express-Debate-British-jihadists-return-UK > [accessed 12 March 2016].

Websites

A practical response to the threat of returnees (2014), < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11231537/A-practical-response-to-the-threat-of-returnees.html > [accessed 12 March 2016].

 

Black, Crispin, What can Britain do about the Jihadists returning from Syria? (2014), < http://www.theweek.co.uk/world-news/syria/56403/what-can-britain-do-about-jihadists-returning-syria > [accessed on 12 March 2016].

Briggs, Rachel, We need a more nuanced approach for dealing with British jihadists who want to come back home (2014), < http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rachel-briggs/isis-british-jihadists_b_6055578.html > [accessed 13 March 2016].

 

British Jihadists: turning them around (2014), < http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21632628-britain-becoming-more-sophisticated-dealing-returning-fighters-turning-them-around > [accessed 14 March 2016].

 

Cambridge Dictionary, Jihadis, < http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/jihadi?q=jihadists > [accessed on 10 March 2016].

 

Collins Dictionary, Jihad, < http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/jihad > [accessed on 10 March 2016].

 

Dominiczak, Peter, William Hague: Government prepared to assist some Jihadists returning from Syria (2014), < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11204191/William-Hague-Government-prepared-to-assist-some-jihadists-returning-from-Syria.html > [accessed 14 March 2016].

 

Express debate: what should we do with British Jihadists? (2014), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/525715/Express-Debate-British-jihadists-return-UK > [accessed 12 March 2016].

 

Gidda, Mirren, No place like home: what to do when Jihadists return (2014), < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29725116 > [accessed 14 March 2016].

 

Harding, Nick, British Jihadis in Iraq and Syria: how should we deal with them when they come home? (2014), < http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-jihadi-fighters-in-iraq-and-syria-how-should-we-deal-with-them-when-they-come-home-9771290.html > [accessed 12 March 2016].

 

Kesvani, Hussein, What will happen to Britain’s returned foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria? (2015), < http://www.buzzfeed.com/husseinkesvani/what-will-happen-to-britains-returned-foreign-fighters-from#.sa5mVBlK7 > [accessed 13 March 2016].

Sparrow, Andrew, British Jihadists ‘should be stripped citizenship’, says David Davies (2016), < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/24/david-davis-isis-british-jihadists-traitors > [accessed 13 March 2016].

‘Terror attack on UK cities imminent’ so why have 375 ISIS terrorists been allowed back in? (2015), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/624330/Islamic-State-Home-Office-375-jihadists-returned-UK-Iraq-Syria  > [accessed 13 March 2016].

UK ready to help returning Jihadidsts who have ‘good intentions’ (2014), < https://www.rt.com/uk/201799-hague-assist-jihadists-syria/ > [accessed 12 March 2016].

UK will count cost of Islamic extremism for ‘many years’, says Cressida Dick (2014), < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/22/uk-will-count-cost-of-islamic-extremism-for-many-years-says-cressida-dick > [accessed 13 March 2016].

 

Virtue, Rob, Crazed jihadis returning to UK from Syria will be forced back to SCHOOL in ‘soft’ plans (2015), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/613047/Crazed-jihadis-Syria-class-david-cameron-extremists > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[1] Collins Dictionary, Jihad, < http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/jihad > [accessed on 10 March 2016].

[2] Cambridge Dictionary, Jihadis, < http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/jihadi?q=jihadists > [accessed on 10 March 2016].

[3]‘Terror attack on UK cities imminent’ so why have 375 ISIS terrorists been allowed back in? (2015), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/624330/Islamic-State-Home-Office-375-jihadists-returned-UK-Iraq-Syria  > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[4] Stuart, Hannah, British Jihadists: preventing travel abroad and stopping attacks at home, Policy paper No. 1 (2014), 2.

[5] ‘Terror attack on UK cities imminent’ so why have 375 ISIS terrorists been allowed back in?

[6] Kesvani, Hussein, What will happen to Britain’s returned foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria? (2015), < http://www.buzzfeed.com/husseinkesvani/what-will-happen-to-britains-returned-foreign-fighters-from#.sa5mVBlK7 > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[7] A practical response to the threat of returnees (2014), < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11231537/A-practical-response-to-the-threat-of-returnees.html > [accessed 12 March 2016].

[8] Kesvani

[9] Black, Crispin, What can Britain do about the Jihadists returning from Syria? (2014), < http://www.theweek.co.uk/world-news/syria/56403/what-can-britain-do-about-jihadists-returning-syria > [accessed on 12 March 2016].

[10] Ibid.

[11] Sparrow, Andrew, British Jihadists ‘should be stripped citizenship’, says David Davies (2016), < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/24/david-davis-isis-british-jihadists-traitors > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[12] Ibid.

[13] Briggs, Rachel, We need a more nuanced approach for dealing with British jihadists who want to come back home (2014), < http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/rachel-briggs/isis-british-jihadists_b_6055578.html > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[14] Express debate: what should we do with British Jihadists? (2014), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/525715/Express-Debate-British-jihadists-return-UK > [accessed 12 March 2016].

[15] Harding, Nick, British Jihadis in Iraq and Syria: how should we deal with them when they come home? (2014), < http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/british-jihadi-fighters-in-iraq-and-syria-how-should-we-deal-with-them-when-they-come-home-9771290.html > [accessed 12 March 2016].

[16] A practical response to the threat of returnees

[17] Express debate: what should we do with British Jihadists?

[18] Briggs

[19] Gidda, Mirren, No place like home: what to do when Jihadists return (2014), < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-29725116 > [accessed 14 March 2016].

[20] UK will count cost of Islamic extremism for ‘many years’, says Cressida Dick (2014), < http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/22/uk-will-count-cost-of-islamic-extremism-for-many-years-says-cressida-dick > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[21] Kesvani

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Harding

[25] Dominiczak, Peter, William Hague: Government prepared to assist some Jihadists returning from Syria (2014), < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11204191/William-Hague-Government-prepared-to-assist-some-jihadists-returning-from-Syria.html > [accessed 14 March 2016].

[26] Ibid.

[27] Harding

[28] Briggs

[29] Ibid.

[30] Harding

[31] Harding

[32] UK ready to help returning Jihadidsts who have ‘good intentions’ (2014), < https://www.rt.com/uk/201799-hague-assist-jihadists-syria/ > [accessed 12 March 2016].

[33] British Jihadists: turning them around (2014), < http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21632628-britain-becoming-more-sophisticated-dealing-returning-fighters-turning-them-around > [accessed 14 March 2016].

[34] Kesvani

[35] Gidda

[36] Virtue, Rob, Crazed jihadis returning to UK from Syria will be forced back to SCHOOL in ‘soft’ plans (2015), < http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/613047/Crazed-jihadis-Syria-class-david-cameron-extremists > [accessed 13 March 2016].

[37] Briggs

[38] Briggs

[39] Gidda

[40] ‘Terror attack on UK cities imminent’ so why have 375 ISIS terrorists been allowed back in?

[41] Ibid.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: