European countries are trying to counter the danger of returning ISIS elements after the defeat of the terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq by withdrawing citizenship and having trials outside the country, but these methods may not come as a final result.
At a time when countries such as Sweden are supporting the establishment of international tribunals for the prosecution of European citizens, the countries concerned have not agreed more strongly with this proposal, even though Iraq has declared its willingness to establish such a court on its territory as long as the terrorists’ countries pay for the cost of the trial and imprisonment.
“These people went to fight democracy, freedom and everything that Denmark represents, and they do not belong to Denmark,” Danish Immigration Minister Inger Støjberg said in March.
European countries hold a common approach sharing this feeling, in addition to achieving the second goal of controlling the number of cases. The cost of monitoring returnees is already straining the resources of European surveillance and counterterrorism agencies, noted Jytte Klausen, an affiliate at Harvard University’s Center for European Studies and founder of the Western Jihadism Project, in an article in Foreign Affairs.
European governments prefer to outsource prosecutions wherever possible. A spokesman for the British prime minister said in earlier statements, “Foreign fighters must be brought to justice in accordance with due process of law in the most appropriate jurisdiction…in other words, not in the UK.”
The German Foreign Ministry acknowledged the need to repatriate German nationals stranded in Syria in principle, but the country’s foreign minister said that given the precarious security situation, repatriation would be very difficult.
The Austrian authorities also said it was very dangerous to send consular officers to gather Austrian citizens from detention centers and camps for internally displaced persons in Syria, while France announced in February that 14 French ISIS fighters detained in eastern Syria would be sent to Iraq for trial.
According to the Independent, at least 150 British citizens have been stripped of their citizenship since 2010, although it is unclear how many cases are directly related to the Syrian conflict. It is also known that Australia, Belgium, Denmark and the United States have abolished the citizenships of ISIS members and supporters, while many other countries, including Austria, Germany and Switzerland, are either considering applying measures or enacting laws to do so.
Meanwhile, states are considering stripping terrorists of citizenship as a solution to the abolition of the death penalty in those states if dual nationals are tried as a “preventive measure” to avoid having to try suspects at all, but this is not a final solution.
“Preventing the return of ISIS fighters by revoking their citizenship does nothing to bring justice to some 1,200 EU citizens who have fought in Syria and Iraq and have already returned home,” said Klausen, whose project targets collecting data and archives focusing on extremist groups in the West and leads a team at Brandeis University that studies terrorist networks.
She also pointed out that only a few of these returnees have been prosecuted. Last year, a Yazidi refugee who was held as a slave by ISIS told the BBC that she had encountered her former torturer outside a supermarket in Germany.
Stripping people of their passports does not address the plight of the children born to them while in ISIS territory, in Klausen’s opinion. No valid passports have been issued to the children born in these territories and are de facto stateless. No children are registered legally and many orphaned children are in the care of those who are not their mothers. It is difficult to determine lineage, without which claims of nationality cannot be determined.
“There are no easy solutions to deal with the myriad of dueling fighters – from Europe and elsewhere – now in the custody of US-backed Kurdish forces. However, the situation is very unstable, and leaving the members of ISIS families in camps and prisons or handing them over to Iraq for enforcement may not be a practical tactic for a longer period,” Klausen said.
There are terrorist groups, including those associated with ISIS, still waging a guerrilla war in the Syrian province of Idlib, Klausen warned, adding that their ranks could be filled by liberating ISIS fighters from Kurdish prisons.
Klausen also warned against decreasing the number of US troops in Syria, which could pose a threat and allow terrorist groups to attack Turkish and Kurdish forces that may not be able to monitor detainees.