Norway's leading terrorism researcher Thomas Hegghammer, who previously warned of the threat that jihadists represent, has sparked a debate by suggesting that reclaiming Norwegian Daesh* women with children from camps in Syria is not challenging in terms of security.
“I don't see any security problem with taking back children with their mothers. It is not a hundred percent risk-free, but I would say that the risk is very low,” Thomas Hegghammer, a research fellow at Defence Research Institute and the University of Oslo, told national broadcaster NRK.
As of today, there are four mothers with Norwegian citizenship being detained at the al Hol and al Roj camps in Syria, with a total of six children. All of them have at some point asked for assistance to return to Norway. So far, no male jihadists with Norwegian citizenship have been found alive in Syria or Iraq.
According to the local Kurdish authorities, Daesh women have established Sharia courts in the camp in order to punish and kill other women. Furthermore, Daesh women are reportedly involved in religious education, propaganda and recruitment. When NRK visited al Hol in June, it reported about unsanitary conditions. It was also obvious that many wholeheartedly supported Daesh.
Hegghammer admitted that there is no perfect solution to the problem. Bringing home the children together with their mothers is both “ethically sound” and not challenging in terms of security, he suggested.
“We should bring the children home and together with the mothers, for the sake of the children,” Hegghammer said. “The risk of course is not zero. Most women are said to sympathise with Daesh. But they will be handled by a system that takes this into account. The fact that vigilante violence occurs in a camp with 70,000 people is not surprising,and does not mean that everyone in the camp poses a deadly threat,” he added.
However, the right-wing Progress Party, which is part of the Norwegian “blue bloc” government with the Conservatives, is against retrieving Daesh women to Norway, citing considerable risks. While the children may get assistance in returning to Norway, their mothers must stay.
“When it comes to the Daesh mothers, these grown-ups who have travelled from Norway to fight the values we stand for. Now they want protection from the values they wanted to fight. We think it is not right for Norwegian taxpayers to pay for their return in a rather expensive operation,” Justice Minister Jøran Kallmyr of the Progress Party said.
Around 6,000 women from around the world have joined Daesh, according to estimates provided by the think tank ICSR at King's College in London. The same think tank estimates that around 600 of them have since returned to their respective countries.
Most European countries have been reluctant to assist Daesh women in returning, despite pleas to take back their citizens from local authorities.
Thomas Hegghammer is the author of several books, including “Jihadi Culture”, “Jihad in Saudi Arabia” and most recently “The Caravan: Abdallah Azzam and the Rise of Global Jihad”.
* Daesh (IS/ISIS/ISIL/“Islamic State”) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and other countries