In 2014, thousands of Westerners traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) as the terrorist group expands its caliphate. But now some are realizing the life of a jihadist is not nearly as grand as advertised, forcing Western countries to contend with the mass return of citizens with ties to the terrorist group.
The topic is extremely controversial in Australia, especially after the wife of Australian terrorist Khaled Sharrouf announced she wants to come home with her five children. David Sharma, Australia’s ambassador to Israel, spoke with i24news about a possible new law that “would revoke the citizenship of dual-nationals known to have gone abroad to fight.” Sharma said it would not be right to revoke citizenship of those who only hold Australian citizenship because it is “not consistent with being part of the international community.” He said those people “will face ‘the full extent of the law,’” which echoes the thoughts of Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He issued a harsh warning the Sharrouf family will face punishment for their crimes.
“Crime is crime is crime, and criminals will face the full severity of Australian law, whether they’re male or female,” he said. “I’m afraid you don’t get off scot-free just because you say, ‘I’ve seen the error of my ways.’”
At least 30 Australians returned from fighting with ISIS, but Sharma said “an additional 155 are known to be providing support to the militant group.” There is no room to “rehabilitate” anyone who joined ISIS.
“Whilst Australia is a compassionate country, there is little sympathy amongst the Australian public for those who have gone to fight with IS in Syria, the public expects them to face the full consequences of the law should they return,” he explained.
In December, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop issued a ban on Australians traveling to Syria’s Raqqa province, which is the terrorist group’s capital of their caliphate. Over 75 passports were cancelled and ten people were refused passports under the new law passed in September. Anyone who breaks the law, “including family visits, journalism or aid work,” could receive a sentence of 10 years in prison. The law allows spies to monitor the Australian Internet for anyone who passes out confidential “information… [that] relates to a special operation.” These people can also receive 10 years in prison.
Some European countries have opened rehabilitation clinics for any citizen who returns from fighting with ISIS. Belgium and Denmark are home to the most jihadists in Europe. Unlike other countries, Denmark takes a nurturing approach towards their jihadists. In October, media outlets revealed the jihadists are “warmly welcomed home by the psychiatrists.” The doctors hope to reintegrate the jihadists. Jobs was a main talking point.
“Our main principle is inclusion,” explained psychology professor Preben Bertelesen. “What motivates these young people is not that far from the motivation the rest of us have: a decent life. For them, joining Isis is fighting for utopia, fighting for a place where they’re wanted. We’re not stigmatising them or excluding them. Instead, we tell them that we can help them get an education, get a job, re-enter society.”
But if the wife returns, she wants to bring home her five children. Sharrouf caused an international firestorm when he posted a picture of his 7-year-old son holding a severed head with the caption, “That’s my boy!” He allegedly married off his 14-year-old daughter to a 31-year-old male friend. But as of publication, it is unknown if the children actually participated in any criminal behavior.
PM Abbott has suggested that returning minors who have not been seen committing violent acts might be treated the same way as children of everyday criminals, saying to Australian media that “there are criminals who go to jail all the time and the children of these particular criminals will be dealt in the same way that the children of criminals are normally dealt with.”
Australian Minister Peter Dutton also said that the government would “take a pragmatic approach in relation to children, particularly infants” in regards to revoking citizenship and facing the law.
Unfortunately, if the family returns, the children’s former schools already made it known none will take them. The eldest sons studied at Rissalah College, “but their attendance was plagued by unpaid fees and the community’s fear of their father.”
“You could tell he was ruthless, he had it in his eyes, many people were scared of him,” described one parent.
The principal stated the pictures of the children are only one reason why the school will not admit them again.
“Given the horrifying and barbaric experiences they have been exposed to, I don’t believe Rissalah College has the means to address their potential needs,” said principal Afif Khalil.