Returning jihadists do not leave to war zones alone — they are accompanied by their wives and children. Since the Daesh has been defeated in Iraq and Syria, thousands of jihadists and their families have begun returning to Europe or been captured and detained before they can make it out of the Middle East.
Divisions in German Society On Tackling Islamist Returnees
German media reported on Sunday, citing government figures, that over 1,000 jihadists, over half of whom had a German passport, had traveled to the Middle East to join terrorist organizations.
According to the government’s statistics, the number of individuals who leave Germany to join terrorist groups continues to grow, but the rate at which this happens has decreased in comparison to two years ago.
Almost every female returnee had at least one child, meaning that around 120 children, toddlers and babies should have accompanied these women, the data showed. However, the German authorities do not know the exact number of underage returnees, since they are prohibited from collecting data on children under the age of 14 years.
German NGOs, such as Diakonie Wert, a Protestant charity, and Caritas Germany, believe that families should be protected and helped, and children should not be separated from their mothers, even if they are radicalized. The health and well-being of a child is the most important priority for them.
The NGOs say that child returnees do not present a threat to security since the group — which consists of only some 120 minors — can be monitored by the authorities.
On the contrary, Germany's domestic security agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), maintains that underage returnees do in fact pose a threat to security. In the agency's point of view, the Daesh has directly targets children and youth in its propaganda, including videos of executions carried out by children.
"We see the threat of children, socialized by Islamists, and thus accordingly indoctrinated, returning to Germany from a war zone. I fear the possibility that a new generation of jihadis is being created," BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen said.
In 2017, the BfV set up a hotline for those seeking advice or offering tips on tackling radicalization of German nationals online. Maassen said his agency had been receiving tips from asylum seekers and migrants arriving in Germany, and following up on them.
Should Jihadists Be Tried In Middle East?
Like in Germany, other societies in Europe are divided on how to treat foreign fighters and jihadi returnees.
On the other hand, left-wing parties and NGOs say that Europeans must welcome these people back to their countries. From their point of view, the worst cases should be tried in Europe, where there is no death penalty.
"They should not be allowed to return if they have dual nationality. Let the other country deal with them. They have left Europe, they should not be allowed to come back and should be judged in Syria for their crimes in Syria," Filip Dewinter, a member of the Belgian federal parliament who has visited war-torn Syria several times, told Sputnik.
Jihadi Groups Strive For Polarization of European Society
Pieter Van Ostaeyen, a researcher and author from Belgium, told Sputnik that the authorities should mind their actions when it comes to Islam and avoid merely symbolic moves, because otherwise they risk alienating even the moderate voices within Muslim communities.
"Policymakers should not give in to the emotional demands of non-Islamic citizens when these do not address genuine problems but are purely motivated by fear and distrust — even when such feelings may be understandable. Polarisation within Western societies is exactly what the violent jihadist movement is trying to create," Van Ostaeyen said.
"Tackling both the risk and the fear can only be achieved through the use of strict controls, for which much more cooperation between European countries will be necessary. The EU and national governments should also empower trusted organizations to help integration in the host societies," Van Ostaeyen noted, adding that such organizations should also ensure that Islamist groups do not exploit this situation for their benefit.
Pierre Henrot, a Belgian analyst of terrorist threats, told Sputnik that many of the individuals who had left Western Europe to join jihadist organizations in the Middle East had a family, a good job and a degree.
"Those who left for Iraq or Syria were not ignorant or ‘lost’ for society. A young man who has a social status, money (acquired legally or illegally), does not leave out of spite. The dual character of Islam, both political and religious, actually acts as a catalyst," Henrot said.
According to the analyst, a typical young radicalized Muslim from Molenbeek in Belgium or Berlin in Germany does not practice Islam and has never read the Koran, but they do believe that the Koran offers them the opportunity to play an active role in their religion.
Many foreign fighters have returned to the European Union, but thousands have yet to come back, the analyst added.
Most of the returnees could still be very dangerous, and EU societies should be cautious as long radical Muslim ideologies — Wahhabism and Salafism — are spread in the bloc, Henrot suggested.