It is time
the international community dealt with the uncomfortable consequences left
behind from the migration of foreign fighters from all over the world to join
the ISIS—children stranded in the post-Caliphate spaces need to go home. If we
allow children of ISIS to remain in detention camps, then we only risk raising
them as the next generation of ISIS fighters. Before it is too late, they need
to be repatriated to their home countries.
there is much resistance to bringing ISIS children home. While countries
including France, Germany, and Norway have repatriated the children of foreign
fighters from Syria and Iraq, others remain reticent. In November, UK Home
Secretary Priti Patel blocked a ready rescue operation to bring back more than
sixty minors from Syria. Around the same time in the United States, a federal
judge ruled that American-born Hoda Muthana who had joined ISIS was not an
American citizen, effectively barring return to the United States to her and
her two-year-old son.
often cite security concerns to justify reservations about bringing ISIS
children back. “These children have been raised with different values and norms
than our children. We don’t have to be silly about that. They’ve seen the cruellest
things in the world,” one Belgian official explained. However, leaving these
children to their own fate in Syria and Iraq is not a way to more security. It
is a way to ensure ISIS has hundreds of disenchanted and forgotten children to
turn into its future fighters. ISIS has already demonstrated that it is not
above using minors in its gruesome plans. The group’s so-called Cubs of the
Caliphate unit prepared children for combat roles, including front-line
operations and suicide attacks. In the heydays of the Caliphate, children were
continuously subjected to violence and were forced to witness public
beheadings, stoning, and executions. They featured in the group’s chilling
propaganda videos. ISIS leaders used young “jihadi juniors” to spread their
message. In one case, it was a four-year-old British boy who was filmed
promising deaths for unbelievers.
group’s use of children has not been limited to the lands of the Caliphate. In
Europe, ISIS has successfully deployed children as terrorist agents. For
instance, in Germany, a fifteen-year-old ISIS supporter managed to stab a
police officer in Hanover on February 26, 2016. The girl apparently received
orders for the attack from ISIS over the internet. In another case, also in
Germany, in the town of Ludwigshafen, a twelve-year-old German-Iraqi boy
attempted to bomb a Christmas market in December 2016. ISIS operatives sent him
the instructions over Telegram.
It would be
naïve to expect that if left to grow up in detention camps ISIS children will
not follow suit. More than eleven thousand foreign women and children remain
trapped in Syria’s al-Hol camp. Many others are scattered across facilities in
northern Syria. Most require urgent medical and psychological care. In camps
like al-Hol, children hardly receive proper nutrition, let alone counseling
services to address trauma and PTSD.
do receive are ongoing doses on indoctrination. In some camps, ISIS women have
successfully recreated a terror-filled regime emulating the rule of the
Caliphate. This means that in detention children remain vulnerable to
radicalization spread by female ISIS hardliners. Not surprisingly, a child was
filmed in al-Hol repeating ISIS promises. “God willing, one day you will go
through this,” the child said. “A day you will be imprisoned like this. God
willing. One day, you will go through what we are going through. God willing.
We will imprison you one day. Don’t think that the [Islamic] state is over.”
children get extricated from detention camp environments, the sooner they will
break out of the cycles of radicalization. Al-Baghdadi envisioned children as
“the next generation of the caliphate.” In order to prevent the realization of
his vision, governments around the world need to bring ISIS children home and
invest in their future.
Elena Pokalova, PhD, is an Associate Professor at
the College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University in
Washington, DC, and author of Returning Islamist Foreign Fighters: Threats and
Challenges to the West. The views expressed in the article are her own.
Headline: A Way to Ensure the Disruption of the Islamic State: Bring ISIS
Source: The National Interest