Dealing with families of terrorist fighters

With the loss of the territory ISIS once held in Syria and Iraq, and of its two capitals, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, the terrorist group's false, self-proclaimed Caliphate has crumbled.

The liberation of towns and villages once suffering under the brutal thumb of ISIS has created a situation where the foreign terrorist fighters who didn't die on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq are trying to return home.

“Since 2014, an estimated 40,000 foreign terrorist fighters from more than 120 countries have streamed into Iraq and Syria,” wrote the State Department's Ambassador-at-Large and Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, in a recent blog post.

Now we need to prepared for the reality that some of these terrorists will return home, along with their families. “This is not a monolithic group. Some of them may have engaged in terrorism while in the conflict zone or may pose a threat to the community,” wrote Ambassador Sales. “Others may themselves be victims of ISIS, however, particularly young children, who will have witnessed unspeakable violence, been indoctrinated, or otherwise become desensitized to ISIS's brutality.”

That is why the Global Counterterrorism Forum's Foreign Terrorist Fighters Working Group recently launched the Initiative on Addressing the Challenge of Returning Families of Foreign Terrorist Fighters. The new initiative, which is headed by the United States and the Netherlands, will look for ways to balance national security concerns with helping vulnerable, often traumatized women and children to reintegrate into society.

In the near future, the Initiative will convene workshops in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, to develop a set of internationally recognized, non-binding good practices for dealing with non-combatants who come home from the conflict zone.

“We need to hold people accountable for their CRImes, and we also need to help people who are victims of CRIme,” wrote Ambassador Sales. “To do this, countries need to have the legal frameworks and resources available to develop and implement tailored responses that can account for the unique and individual circumstances that each returning child and spouse will present.

“This Initiative is the first step to help nations develop the tools to address the return of family members of foreign terrorist fighters from the war zone in Iraq and Syria.”

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