Deradicalisation programmes for Islamic State fighters who have returned from Syria and Iraq are proving largely unsuccessful as some continue making propaganda videos for the terrorist group while back in Germany, and most rejoin the country’s flourishing Salafist community.
A radio station for research and analysis, Der Funkstreifzug, looked into deradicalisation programmes for jihadis who have returned to Germany and found that their results are limited.
In the case of one returnee, an ethnic Turk, internet photos showed him holding weapons in Syria. He is also said to have bragged on the phone that he had killed people. The young man was arrested when he arrived back in Germany at the end of 2014. Prosecutors were unable to find sufficient hard evidence to convict him, however, and advised that he would benefit from a deradicalisation programme to help him integrate back into German society.
Der Funkstreifzug revealed that the jihadist’s deradicalisation seems to have been unsuccessful.
It reported: “[The returned Islamic State fighter] is respected by peers from the jihadist milieu of returned Mujahid — so-called holy warriors. And he makes [Islamic extremist] Youtube videos. He obviously produces his own videos and [spreads his ideology] by means of music, pictures and writing his messages.”
The investigation noted that the man “sees himself as a victim of German justice” because he has to report regularly to the police, and must not carry dangerous weapons like knives. He tried to appeal even these measures, unsuccessfully, in court. In one of his Youtube videos the man claimed that “all over the world, [Muslims] are oppressed” and said “if they throw us in prison, our thoughts will still be on the run”.
Germany’s Interior Ministry unveiled its deradicalisation programme at the end of last year. Named the “Anti-Salafism Network”, the programme engages counsellors to work with people who are radicalised through therapy. So far €400,000 of taxpayers’ money has been spent on this initiative.
Research by Der Funkstreifzug showed the majority of Salafists have no desire to be deradicalised. It noted that because the anti-Salafism programmes rely only on voluntary compliance, their effects are very limited for people who fought in Syria.
Earlier this year n-tv interviewed a former Islamic State soldier to discuss returnees. Marwan Abou-Taam said most people who spent time with the terrorist group return to the Salafist scene because they are “treated like heroes”.
The former fighter also played down the danger of returnees who spent time in Syria with the terrorist group, arguing it’s better for them to be deradicalised. He said that “radicalised people are like alcoholics” and claimed that jailing men returning from the war-torn region would be dangerous for Germany.
Asked whether people who fought with Islamic State are dangerous, Mr. Abou-Taam said there was nothing to worry about with most of them. He said they return from Syria “traumatised — similar to traumatised soldiers in the U.S.” Mr. Abou-Taam claimed “jihadi tourists”, as the German press calls them, chose to come back to Germany because they were “disappointed” with Islamic State.
He said: “Many of them are likely to mellow or become disappointed. They no longer hold much of the Islamic State ideology and have returned to distance themselves from it.”
Mr. Abou-Taam warned that putting returning Islamic State fighters in prison is dangerous as they are “hailed as war heroes and seen as political prisoners”. Arguing that “we have to try to deradicalise and integrate” the jihadis, he added that there was a risk that, in jail, they would radicalise other inmates.
When asked if returnee fighters are considered traitors by Islamic State, and subsequently may be forced into hiding, Mr. Abou-Taam said they were viewed positively by Islamists.
“Most returnees that we know return to the Salafist scene. In my opinion, this is not a sign that they are a particular risk. These are their friends, because they are treated as heroes,” the former terrorist fighter told n-tv.
The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) estimates that 820 people with German passports have left Europe to fight in Syria and Iraq with Islamic State. In January, it was thought that around 250 fighters had returned to Germany.
A BKA report from December last year stated that 130 of the “jihadi tourists” died while serving the terrorist group. The report also revealed there are more than 45,000 active Salafists in Germany and 1,100 people active in the country’s “terrorist scene”.