Shamima Begum isn't alone: dozens of ISIS supporters still want to return to the west
By Barfi Culture Team
18th February 2019

Shamima Begum may have grabbed all the attention but she is not alone.

Spread out across the Middle East are dozens of former ISIS fighters or supporters who want to come back home to the west.

This week CTV News reported that a pregnant woman from Alberta, who moved to Syria with her ISIS-supporting husband and their two young boys, said she wanted to return to Canada too.

"I think I should be allowed to go home," she said. "I don’t believe I did anything wrong. I didn’t kill nobody. I didn’t do any harm to anybody."

Last week, an ISIS fighter man named Mohammed Ali said he too wanted to return to Ontario.

"Why shouldn't I be able to go home? I've done nothing in Canada. I've broken no laws there at all," he said in an interview, apparently not realizing that joining a proscribed terrorist group and trying to recruit for them is an offence.

CNN also ran into Dura Ahmed, a woman from Toronto, who said she wanted to come back and didn't know what she was getting into.

"Did you hear about the slaughter of Yezidis, of Yezidi women being enslaved?" the reporter asked her. "Well, having slaves is part of Sharia," she said. "I believe in Sharia, wherever Sharia is. We must follow whoever is implementing the way, the law."

There are dozens more fighters like this, looking to get out as ISIS collapses around them.

Why do we have to let them back in?

Its likely most people in the west would oppose letting ISIS sympathizers back in, though there's little polling we saw on this issue.

But most western countries have signed conventions agreeing not to make people stateless if they don't have dual nationalities. So if an ISIS fighter only has a British or Canadian passport, they cannot be stripped off their citizenship.

That makes it legally difficult to refuse them right of entry. Instead, the Canadian and British governments have said they won't risk any lives or spend money to bring them back.

But, Trump's administration has taken the opposite stance, urging western countries to "repatriate and prosecute their citizens", adding that: "collective action is imperative to address this shared international security challenge".

In other words, if we don't arrest and prosecute these ISIS fighters now they might cause us trouble in the future.

What happens to them if they return?

Its likely they will be prosecuted for joining a proscribed terrorist organisation. But dozens have already returned. According to one estimate, around 60 ISIS sympathisers have already returned to Canada and potentially pose a huge security threat.

The Conservative Party of Canada is accusing Trudeau's Liberal government of putting Canadian lives in danger and its likely they won't make it easy for more ISIS fighters to return.

If Shamima Begum was to return to the UK she would almost certainly face prosecution for joining a terrorist group. The same would apply to other ISIS fighters or sympathizers.

Can't we rehabilitate them?

Canada seems to have made more progress on this front than others. It has a variety of deradicalisation and rehabilitation programs re: ISIS returnees, though its too early to tell how effective they are.

Won't all this cost a lot?

Yes, it will cost a lot of money either way. If we don't arrest ISIS fighters and bring them back to face trial, they may try and sneak back in. That will require a lot of extra vigilance and security.

If they are brought back and put on trial, that will cost money. Monitoring them for the foreseeable future would also cost a lot of money.

Politicians may prefer to just jail them for a long time, but there are concerns these fighters may radicalise others in prison too.

In other words, there are no easy choices.

But many of them show little signs of regret. Shamima Begum said this to the BBC about the Manchester bombing at a concert: "It’s a two-way thing really because women and children are being killed in the Islamic State right now and it’s kind of retaliation. Their justification was that it’s retaliation so I thought OK that is a fair justification."

Sky News interview

On ITV's Good Morning Britain, the Begum family lawyer Tasnime Akunjee said the UK had a moral obligation to bring Shamima back. Tania Joya, a former Jihadi wife who has now settled in the US, said it might take time but she could integrate back into western society.

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