Terror reports issue urgent warnings to European governments over repatriation of ISIS fighters

Following a UK court decision on Shamima Begum, reports warn prisons could be ‘overwhelmed’ if all foreign ISIS fighters are returned

Two terror reports are warning European governments to urgently prepare for the release and return of ISIS foreign fighters. AP
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European governments are being warned of the “urgent” need to adopt a uniform plan for the repatriation of ISIS fighters as thousands are set to return and be released from prisons.

Two reports focusing on the threat posed by extremists in Europe have been released just days after a UK court ruled in favour of former ISIS member Shamima Begum.

Ms Begum won her bid to return to the country to appeal against a 2019 government order which stripped of her citizenship.

A report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalism is urgently calling on governments to collaborate and warns of the need for rehabilitation with probation officers to begin while extremists are still in prison rather than after they are released.

It says if Western ISIS Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) were to imminently return, prisons across Europe would be “overwhelmed”.

Thousands of fighters already serving sentences are shortly due to be released.

Peter Neuman, the report’s author, said a large number of FTFs have been convicted of lesser charges in a bid to get them into custody. As a result, many are only serving short sentences.

“Our report is very urgent because within the next two to three years some countries will have a significant number of people in prison being released back into society and that is something to prepare for,” he said.

“Rehabilitation is really important in view of how many people will be released. There needs to be linking up between prison and probation, this is urgent. [There needs to be] an integrated programme so probation is involved long before someone is released. It will need resources and money but it is important.

“It would be great if across Europe we could improve channels of information. There needs to be a more coordinated and systematic exchange of information.”

The report outlines the needs for expertise and training of staff, the sharing of information between prison and probation services and other relevant government departments and an evaluation of the risk assessment tools they use.

Mr Neuman has warned that some countries will be ill-equipped to receive returning FTFs, especially women.

“I think most prison systems will be probably be overwhelmed if all ISIS FTFs returned at once,” he explained.

“Amongst the FTFs there are significant numbers of women, we have been saying for some time that the prison systems need to get prepared for that.”

His concerns have been echoed in a report, released on Wednesday, by the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.

It says European governments need to be aware of the “great risks” posed by returning female ISIS recruits and “urgently” need to examine their policies for their prosecution and rehabilitation.

The UN report raises questions over the issues of “fair treatment” concerning the policies of some nations to strip people of their citizenship in their absence.

Ms Begum had left the UK as a 15-year-old schoolgirl to join ISIS and was stripped of her British citizenship in her absence. Last week the UK’s top court ruled she should be allowed to return to challenge the government’s decision.

Only nine per cent of Western female ISIS recruits have returned home and the UN says nations need to create gender-sensitive programmes tailored to women or warns there is a great risk they will reoffend.

“[Our analysis brief] identifies an urgent need to develop more gender-sensitive criminal justice responses, as well as alternative approaches to rehabilitation and reintegration outside the criminal justice system,” the UN has said.

“Given that overall relatively few women returnees have been prosecuted, their access to rehabilitation and reintegration programmes has consequently been limited. This poses the risk of not attending to returnees’ needs for assistance, undermining women’s successful reintegration into society and putting them at potentially greater risk of recidivism.”

A number of fighters have had their citizenship revoked amid a continuing dispute between countries over how best to handle the ISIS activists still alive after defeat on the battlefield.