How should Europe deal with IS returnees?

After US President Trump demanded on Twitter that Europe take back roughly 800 European citizens who fought with the IS terrorist organisation, the debate about allowing the return of jihadists is in full swing. The UK has withdrawn the citizenship of 19-year-old IS supporter Shamima Begum. Tensions are running high on the issue.

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Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Islamists must not be encouraged

The US and the UK are right to refuse to take back two women who went to Syria to fight for the IS, finds journalist Ivan Yakovyna in Novoye Vremya:

“I sincerely hope the two get a good kick in the behind and that they aren't allowed to enter any country in the West. They must bear the responsibility for choosing the path of violence and murder in the name of a backwards, obscure religiosity even though they could have lived in peace in a secular and democratic society. To take them back would be to encourage all the abnormals who believe it's normal to fight using weapons for their religious belief. The West runs the risk of seeing hundreds if not thousands of such people return.”

The Sun (GB) /

British Muslims don't want IS bride back

With their fanaticism people like Shamima Begum are making life difficult for law-abiding Muslims in the West, author Anila Baig writes in The Sun:

“No one in my circle of friends and family thinks Shamima Begum should be allowed back into Britain. … Still, Begum talks about how 'unjust' the decision to boot her out of the UK is and repeatedly asks for sympathy. Sorry, but I reserve my sympathy for the rest of us in the Muslim community. Every single time there is an incident around the world we hold our breath, hoping and praying it was not a misguided 'Muslim' behind the attack. Since 9/11 there has always been a backlash, and it is ordinary, law-abiding Muslims who bear the brunt.”

Middle East Monitor (GB) /

London's glaring double standards

There have been no bids to have the British citizenship of Asma Al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian dictator, withdrawn, The Middle East Monitor comments in anger:

“The treatment of the teenager from East London is very different to that of Asma Al-Assad, yet both women were born and educated in London, and both are married to war criminals who’ve carried out atrocities on the ground in Syria, although only one has used chemical weapons on women and children. ... It seems that in Britain the law still operates in favour of the privileged elite, like Asma Al-Assad, and not those who are easy targets for a right-wing media and populist commentariat. Shamima Begum is not only the wrong class, but also the wrong colour, unlike fair-skinned Assad.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Trials in Belgium not very promising

In view of the Belgian judiciary's past experiences with IS attackers La Libre Belgique advises against allowing jihadists back into the country:

“The silence of Salah Abdeslam and Mehdi Nemmouche [on trial for the attack on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014] in their current trials does not strengthen the case for the return of adult IS fighters to Belgium. We don't know what went on in Syria, or who is responsible for what. The Belgian judiciary rightly asks: how are we to conduct an investigation if they're tried before a Belgian court, given that we have neither soldiers nor police officers in the region? Only the Americans have systematically interrogated their prisoners. An international tribunal located in the region would be the best solution.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

Europe must solve the problem or outsource it

The Wiener Zeitung also examines this potential alternative to the return of IS fighters:

“Must we take jihadists back? Yes, because in Europe they can be put on trial. The necessary infrastructure is in place for them to be punished. To use tricks to strip them of their citizenship, as London has done, is irresponsible and cowardly. Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old whose citizenship was withdrawn, was radicalised in England. ... There's a different approach those who want to outsource the problem could take. The Kurds want to set up an international court on Syrian soil. We could support them in this undertaking. They contributed significantly to the IS's defeat. Now they lack the resources to provide for the prisoners.”

The Independent (GB) /

Britain wasting an opportunity

The British government has decided to strip Shamima Begum, who left the country to join the IS at 15, of her citizenship. The Independent laments the decision:

“In recounting the lived reality of the so-called caliphate - decapitations, and surely beatings, violence and much else - she might have been able to shatter the illusions of those prone to believing jihadist propaganda. Having lost two infants while living in the caliphate, and now reduced to tending a newborn in a Syrian refugee camp, Begum could have served as an authentic warning to other impressionable young Britons of the perils of heeding the call of ideologically perverted groups. She might have been a poster girl for British decency and dogged determination to do the right thing for its own people.”

Expressen (SE) /

Jihadists can come back to impunity

Expressen is alarmed at the prospect of many IS fighters returning to Sweden without being punished:

“In Norway a more far-sighted approach was taken. There there's a law banning participation in and cooperation with terrorist organisations. Sweden has no such legislation. ... It was only in 2016 that trips to terrorist areas were banned, meaning that most people who return from former IS territories can't even be put on trial for this crime. A very disturbing impunity awaits IS fighters who return to Sweden. This would not only make a mockery of their victims in Syria and Iraq; the jihadists would also pose a major security risk to Sweden. ... In this situation there's only one feasible answer to Trump: No.”

Bild (DE) /

German fighters are Germany's problem

Trump's demand is absolutely justified, Bild counters:

“German citizens who become radicalised in Germany and then join the jihad and end up prisoners in Syria are a German problem. The German government shirked its responsibilities in the fight against the IS in Syria, leaving it to the US and the Kurdish militia to do all the work. And now they're supposed to play prison guards for us too? The German government urgently needs a coordinated repatriation and prosecution system - before dangerous terrorists get out of prison again. Because after all we Germans also demand that other countries take back their criminals who are living here.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Deradicalise youths with compassion

Youths like the British citizen Shamima Begum who joined the IS should be treated with compassion instead of being punished, The Guardian demands:

“Even if you do not accept human empathy as a base level for the state's response you must appreciate the need to begin the process of 'deradicalisation'. ... We must also acknowledge the failures of an anti-radicalisation strategy that has left many young Muslims feeling victimised, isolated and perhaps even more vulnerable to online groomers. The current system isn't working. Treating at-risk young people as individual cases and doing so with compassion - starting with Begum - has to offer a better way forward.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Trump exploiting Europe's weak spot

Trump wants to put Europe in a tight spot with his demand that Europe take back IS fighters, Hospodářské noviny points out:

“Bloody attacks were carried out by radical Islamists in France and Belgium in 2015 and 2016. Hence fears regarding the return of such people are justified. They would pose a major security risk. There's a big difference between meeting a radical Islamist on the battlefield and meeting him on trial in an independent court in a country with a functioning legal system. ... And of course the White House is well aware of such problems. Donald Trump wanted above all to strengthen his negotiating position vis-à-vis the weak Europeans - according to the motto: we pay a lot for your defence; you owe us for that.”

Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

States are responsible for their citizens

Simply voicing outrage at Trump's behaviour doesn't help matters, Der Tagesspiegel writes:

“Of course: the way the demand was made was counterproductive. Such nocturnal tweets are a far cry from diplomacy. ... But if we set aside our outrage it's clear that this is precisely what will happen. Many German, British or French citizens will end up on trial in their home countries. Because states are responsible for their citizens regardless of whether they are 'saints' or 'terrorists'. ... That's why Germany sends foreigners who have committed a criminal offence back to their home countries. And that's why the US was criticised for setting up the Guantánamo prison camp after the 9/11 attacks.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Europe's riff-raff

Europe is beholden to act, De Standaard concurs:

“Of course those concerned must be put on trial, and face long prison sentences. Nevertheless at some point they'll be released. That obliges the state to give them lifelong follow-up care and support. De-radicalisation is and remains an extremely arduous, never-ending undertaking. ... There can be no talk of sympathy or empathy. But those who fought in Syria confront us with the reality. What sort of society do we want, with which values? How should we deal with these people who are European subjects, even if they have unspeakable crimes on their conscience? We can't shirk our responsibility. Yes, we're dealing here with riff-raff. But it's our riff-raff.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

Too big a security risk

The case of Shamina Begum in particular has attracted widespread attention in Britain. She went to Syria four years ago aged just 15 and now wants to return with her small child, but says she doesn't regret what she did. The British home secretary doesn't want to let her return. Rightly so, the Irish examiner comments:

“Governments have a responsibility to citizens in trouble overseas, but does that obligation loosen when the person asking for help has been seen - as would-be IS returners have done - to not only willingly place themselves in danger but also to join an organisation whose purpose was the destruction of their own societies? Many would say, with justification, that it does, and that a government's principal obligation is to the safety of its loyal and law-abiding population.”