The Return of ISIS Fighters

By Nikita Malik

Earlier this week, the Rt Hon Ben Wallace MP, Minister of State for Security at the Home Office, argued that terror laws need to be updated so foreign terrorist fighters returning from Islamic State can be brought to justice in the United Kingdom.

900 individuals from the UK travelled to engage with the conflict in Syria. Roughly half of this figure have now returned. There is no doubt that robust evidence and legal tools will need to be used against those who continue to pose a threat to our national security.

There are several routes to prosecute Islamic State fighters. Some of these include the United Kingdom encouraging Iraq to become a party of the Rome Statute and allowing the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute there, the establishment of a new ad-hoc tribunal for the purposes of Iraq or Syria, existing ICC investigations into events in Libya pursuant to the Security Council’s referral in 2011, and jurisdiction over attacks on the areas where Islamic State held territory.

The United Kingdom has an important role to play in strengthening access to justice, collecting and preserving evidence, and upholding accountability through capacity building.

Back in 2014, our Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society argued that treason laws could be used against foreign terrorist fighters.

Policy recommendations outlined in the paper included the use of the treason law as a ‘high-profile mechanism’ for deterring foreign fighters, and sending a strong message about the type of behaviour the British state will tolerate from its citizens.

The report also argued for allowing passport confiscation without Royal Prerogative and with an independent oversight mechanism, as well as more widespread use of Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) on aspiring fighters.
The report was ahead of its time, and including a standardised protocol for all returning fighters with a range of measures commensurate to the threat posed, ensuring a minimum standard of contact as well as a focus on prosecuting the online promotion of Islamic State materials by UK-based extremists. This is particularly important now with the impending release of extremists such as Anjem Choudary, a notorious Islamist hate preacher and a key node in the banned terrorist organisation Al-Muhajiroun.

While some of these proposals are now being utilised, others, such as the introduction of a national counselling service to help support the families of returning or aspiring foreign fighters, have yet to be introduced. However, the risk posed by high level extremists, and their continued celebrity appeal both online and offline, cannot be overemphasized.

By strengthening the toolkit available to our security services, we can ensure that young people, vulnerable individuals, and entire families do not fall for the same toxic ideology again.

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