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UK Think-Tank: Governments Should Help ISIS Jihadi ‘Defectors’

A U.K.-based terrorism think-tank is urging Western governments to encourage jihadists to defect from the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) by helping them resettle and then protect them against reprisals.

The British-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), in a report published September 18, said that governments and activists should “recognize the value and credibility of defector narratives; provide defectors with opportunities to speak out; assist them in resettlement and ensure their safety; and remove legal disincentives that prevent them from going public.”

“Not every defector is a saint, and not all of them are ready or willing to stand in the public spotlight,” acknowledged the author of the report, Peter Neumann, in a recent CNN article. “But their voices are strong and clear: ‘The Islamic State is not protecting Muslims. It is killing them.’ They need to be heard.”

In the report, titled “Victims, Perpetrators, Assets: The Narratives of Islamic State Defectors,” the King’s College London think-tank, which is known for tracking the movement of Islamic extremists from the U.K. and other countries to Syria, also urges governments to encourage the defectors to leave ISIS-controlled territory and then protect them against potential reprisals.

“It seems to me to be wrong that if someone is helping to deter people to join Isis by casting a negative light on the group, that he is then being punished for it,” reported Neumann. “Right now, if you speak out, the prosecutor will say, ‘oh that’s very interesting, so he’s admitting membership of Isis, so we can prosecute him for that.’ So that needs to stop.”

“We’re not asking for the creation of legal incentives, saying ‘if you tell a nice story you get an amnesty,’ but people right now are being actively punished for speaking out and I think that needs to change,” he also wrote, adding, “Lawyers need to figure out a solution for that so people are no longer disincentivised for that.”

At least 58 jihadists have left ISIS and publicly spoken about their defection between January 2014 and August of this year, according to the ICSR report.

Of the 58, more than a third (21) were listed as Syrians, nearly a quarter (17) from other Middle Eastern countries, nine from western Europe and Australia, 7 from Central, South and Southeast Asia, two from Turkey, and in two cases the country of origin was unknown.

Most of the defectors (51) were males.

“The defectors’ reasons for leaving may be as complex as the reasons they joined. Not everyone has become a fervent supporter of liberal democracy. Some may have committed crimes,” notes Neumann. “They joined the most violent and totalitarian organization of our age, yet they are now its worst enemies.”

Neumann identified four key narratives for why the defectors left ISIS.

  1. “IS is more interested in fighting fellow (Sunni) Muslims than the Assad government.”
  2. “IS is involved in brutality and atrocities against (Sunni) Muslims.”
  3. “IS is corrupt and un-Islamic.”
  4. “Life under IS is harsh and disappointing.”

The 58 defectors identified in the report are “a sizable number but likely only a fraction of those disillusioned, ready to defect, and/or willing to go public,” reports ICSR.

Nevertheless, the defections “have been sufficiently frequent to shatter Isis’s image as a united, cohesive and ideologically committed organisation,” wrote Neumann.

“Overall, our numbers suggest that the pace of public defections has increased: almost 60 per cent of the cases were reported in the first eight months of 2015 and nearly a third took place in the last three months of observation,” he added.

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