Foreign fighters who travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIS pose a security risk if they are not allowed to return home and go through a de-radicalisation programme, according to a counter-terrorism expert.
Highlighting the case of Shamima Begum, Neda Richards, a researcher at the University of Leeds’s School of Law, said putting radicalised people through a rehabilitation programme in the UK would prevent them and their families from becoming a security risk.
“They are currently struggling with food and money; if we don’t take them back then other terrorist groups, such as Al Nusra, will take these individuals on and they will become the future terrorists and extremists and so will their kids,” she told The National.
“These individuals are our problem and we can either deal with them now or in the future.”
Ms Richards, whose research focuses on preventing extremism, said a de-radicalisation programme in Denmark to reintegrate former ISIS members back into society had proved successful.
The issue of returning fighters and their families has dominated headlines after teenage ISIS bride Ms Begum was found at the Al Hol refugee camp in Syria this month.
Ms Begum, 19, who recently gave birth to her third child, pleaded to be given a “second chance”, saying she could help other girls considering joining terrorist groups.
“I’d like to be an example of how someone can change,” she told the Daily Mail.
“I want to help, encourage other young British people to think before they make life-changing decisions like this and not to make the same mistake as me.”
In her first interview with the British media, Ms Begum said she did not regret joining ISIS. But after a public outcry and moves to strip her of her UK citizenship, she has struck a more conciliatory tone, describing her decision to leave as a mistake.
The case sparked fierce debate as to whether Ms Begum, who left east London at the age of 15 with two friends to join ISIS, should be allowed back into the UK.
Britain’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid last week revoked her UK citizenship and said he would do everything to prevent her and others returning.
But Mr Javid indicated that Ms Begum’s newborn son, the only one of her three children still alive, is a British citizen and could be allowed UK entry without his mother.
Last weekend it was reported that Mr Javid was drawing up a new treason law to ensure any returning extremists that make it back to the UK can be prosecuted.
The Sun newspaper reported that he had asked officials to change the definition of the Treason Act, which punishes crimes against the monarch with life imprisonment. The new definition would be changed to an act of betrayal by anyone using violence or attempting to, against the British people.
More than 400 British ISIS members including men, women and their children have reportedly returned to the UK already, the highest number in Europe.