What should be done with foreigners who joined Islamic State?

Swiss perspectives:

Switzerland is one the many countries facing difficult choices in dealing with their citizens linked to the Islamic State. These are some of the options on the table, and the challenges involved.

US-backed Kurdish-led forces are currently holding tens of thousands of people linked to Islamic State in northern Syria after capturing the last IS stronghold in March. Rights groups are concerned about due process and prison conditions for IS detainees both in Syria and in neighbouring Iraq.

The detainees are mostly Syrians and Iraqis but also include some 2,000 foreigners from more than 70 countries, as well as women and children being held in a separate camp that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet described as “deeply sub-standard”. There are currently a dozen adults with links to Switzerland in northern Syria, and the United Nations this week called for fair trials for Islamic State captives and for countries to take responsibility for their nationals.

“Accountability, with fair trials, protects societies from future radicalisation and violence,” Bachelet saidexternal link on Monday. “Betrayals of justice, following flawed trials – which may include unlawful and inhumane detention, and capital punishment – can only serve the narrative of grievance and revenge.”

In northeast Syria, Swiss public television (RTS) interviewed a Swiss jihadist who has been detained by the Kurds since January 2018.

 How can justice be served?

One possibility is to have IS members tried by the local justice system set up by the Kurdish self-administration in northeast Syria, says Marco Sassoli external link, director of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights.

Another possibility is that the foreign fighters are sent back to their home countries.

The third possibility is to establish a kind of international tribunal, Sassoli told swissinfo.ch.

They could also be transferred to Iraq and judged there, which has already happened in some cases.

The Geneva Academy recently co-organised a conference on the issue with the NGO Fight for Humanity, which produced a report and recommendationsexternal link. But none of the options are simple.

Could foreign fighters be repatriated?

With the notable exception of countries such as the US and Russia, most Western governments – and their electorates – are not keen on the idea of repatriating these “combatants”. Some countries, including Britain, have stripped former IS members of their nationality.

Switzerland has said it will not actively repatriate its nationals, and Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has said she would prefer to see them tried where they are in Syria or Iraq, for security reasons.

Sassoli thinks the security fear is irrational.

“They are more dangerous in Syria than in a Swiss prison,” he says, because in Switzerland it is harder to escape and the political situation is stable, whereas the Kurdish area is a potential target for Syria and Turkey. He thinks repatriating nationals could be a good option if Western countries want to do “something special for their nationals”, but this option would have the disadvantage of being much further from the witnesses and the evidence.

“Active repatriation may only be examined for minors,” Swiss Foreign Ministry Spokesman Pierre-Alain Eltschinger told swissinfo.ch. “In this regard, the best interest of the child is decisive.”

The Swiss government has rejected calls to actively repatriate Islamic militants with Swiss nationality from Syria or Iraq.

What about an international tribunal?

The Swiss government has raised the possibility of helping to set up an international tribunal and says it supports creating such a court. It participated in a preliminary meeting on this in Stockholm earlier this month with eleven European Union countries, but Eltschinger said that “no decisions were taken”.

“Such a court would have to provide for the guarantees inherent to the rule of law, be appropriately organised, impartial and enjoy broad international support among Switzerland’s partners,” the foreign ministry spokesman said via e-mail.

He also cited disadvantages to support for such a court, including its complexity and the fact that such an operation is very expensive. In addition, he said, evidence may be difficult to access because it depends on cooperation with multiple states.

“Depending on the court’s location, there is a risk of a lack of independence and political influence,” Eltschinger said.

Could it be a UN tribunal? And where would the court be based?

Sassoli says a UN court is not going to happen, and a tribunal in a European country is also unlikely because of security concerns. He thinks another possibility for a treaty-based international or mixed tribunal would be in Iraq, because Iraq would agree to it, unlike Syria.

A Syria-based court “would be quite revolutionary,” says Sassoli, “because it would mean establishing a tribunal on the territory of a state which does not consent”.

Iraq is already holding trials of IS members, including some foreign ones. But there are concerns, particularly regarding the death penalty which exists in Iraq (and not on Kurdish territory). For example, 11 French nationalsexternal link have been sentenced to death in Iraq for belonging to IS. But it is likely that Iraq would agree to a mixed tribunal according to international standards and no death penalty in exchange for significant Western help with expertise and infrastructure.

What crimes would the suspects be tried for?

Another issue is what kind of statute an international tribunal would have. For Switzerland and other European countries, simply belonging to IS is a crime, but Sassoli says that for credibility an international court should try suspects for war crimes. And in terms of international standards, it should also try everyone involved in the conflict on an equal basis, i.e. not just foreign fighters and not just IS.

“Everyone – the Syrians, the Iraqis, the foreigners – has the same right to judicial guarantees and if they committed war crimes they must be prosecuted.”

Who has a right to try IS suspects?

The Kurdish authorities are appealing for international support to conduct trials under their own justice system and have repeatedly stressed that they lack the resources to secure and care for such a high number of dangerous detainees. Kurdish representative Khaled Issa, who participated in the Geneva conference, told Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA that the Kurds’ self-administration had a right to try IS suspects because “they were arrested on our territory, they committed their crimes on our territory and the victims are our families and infrastructure”.

But helping the Kurdish authorities to improve their justice system and prisons would constitute a kind of recognition for them, which is delicate.

“From the point of view of Syria, but especially of Turkey, these are terrorists and rebels,” says Sassoli. “Establishing a criminal tribunal is not like establishing a health clinic. In the public’s perception, this is something done by states.”

Source: What should be done with foreigners who joined Islamic State?

5 Takeaways About The Trump Administration’s Response To Far-Right Extremism

Of note:

Lawmakers on the House Oversight Committee questioned senior FBI and Homeland Security officials this week about their response to white supremacist violence.

This was the latest in a series of hearings, led by Democrats, to gauge the Trump administration’s commitment to fighting a threat that federal agencies deem the most lethal and active form of domestic extremism.

There were no bombshell revelations, but lawmakers did get a few details on some key questions.

Here are five takeaways:

There is no national policy to combat the far-right threat

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who led the hearing, started by asking what he called the fundamental question: “Do we have an overall strategic plan to counter and prevent the threat of white supremacist violence? I fear the answer is no.”

Raskin was right. After more than two hours of questioning, it was clear that, unlike the government’s quick and sweeping response to Islamist militant groups, there’s no comparable national strategy to fight white supremacist and other far-right movements.

Elizabeth Neumann, a senior threat prevention official at Homeland Security, told lawmakers that federal authorities were still adapting to the evolution of both far-right and Islamist extremists: They now self-radicalize online, with little or no direction from organized groups like al-Qaida, which had a clear hierarchy and staged attacks that took months or years to plan.

“Our post-9/11 prevention capabilities, as robust as they are, were not designed to deal with this type of threat,” Neumann said.

She said Homeland Security was developing “a prevention framework” to be implemented in coming years, but she offered no details. Raskin, the lawmaker, said it was “very late in the game” to still be in the development stage of a national strategy, given the deadly far-right attacks in Charleston, S.C., Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, Va. and elsewhere.

Neumann said the delay is partly because “things haven’t been institutionalized” through legislation, an executive order or a national security presidential memorandum focused on domestic terrorism. She noted that the Obama administration also lacked those tools.

“We know we’re not doing enough,” Neumann said.

Federal agents do take this seriously – even if the White House doesn’t

President Donald Trump consistently downplays the threat of white nationalist extremism, which he’s dismissed as “a small group of people.”

Michael McGarrity, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, bristled when lawmakers suggested that, given the apparent disinterest from the top, federal authorities might not be taking the far-right threat seriously enough. McGarrity bluntly stated, more than once, that racially motivated violent extremists are the deadliest and most active of domestic terrorists.

“We’re not playing with the numbers here,” McGarrity said. “We arrest more domestic terrorism subjects [before they stage an] attack in the United States than we do international terrorism.”

He said the FBI is using many of the same tactics historically used to thwart international groups like the Islamic State: working sources, staging undercover operations and asking courts to authorize wiretaps. McGarrity added that the FBI considers racially motivated extremists a transnational threat, and that the agency shares intelligence with counterterrorism partners overseas.

Homeland Security won’t say much about its prevention effort

In 2015, Homeland Security opened a small office devoted to an approach known as “CVE,” countering violent extremism. The idea is to use community partnerships and other tools to interrupt the radicalization process before it turns to violence. Critics call it ineffective, and say it leads to the stigmatization and surveillance of ordinary Muslims.

Under the Trump administration, the CVE-focused office lost about 90 percent of its old budget and about half its staff, and it’s been renamed twice to signal a shift away from community partnership work. (Some Muslim activists joke that scrapping CVE was the only Trump administration move they supported.)

But it might be premature to declare the government’s CVE program dead. Neumann said CVE-style prevention work will be part of a broad counterterrorism strategy that Homeland Security plans to have ready by this fall. But she gave few details about the program or what’s going on with the restructured office that’s supposed to handle it.

“There’s still more questions than answers at this point,” Raskin complained. “What are the office’s precise functions? Who’s in charge? How many personnel will be assigned to prevent white supremacy violence?”

Debate is heating up over a domestic terrorism law

If a U.S.-based suspect is accused of involvement with an international terrorist organization such as ISIS or al-Qaida, prosecutors have an array of charges to consider that aren’t available for most cases involving white supremacist suspects.

Without a domestic terrorism statute, said McGarrity of the FBI, authorities are restricted as to how much they can police speech and conduct that’s offensive, but protected under the First Amendment.

“The FBI does not investigate rallies or protests unless there’s a credible belief that violent criminal activity may be occurring,” he said.

In some quarters of Congress, support is building for a domestic terrorism statute, ostensibly to correct the double standard in extremist prosecutions. But several rights groups already have rejected the idea, arguing that enforcing existing laws is better than giving even more power to federal authorities.

This debate is one to watch in coming months.

It’s official: Black Identity Extremism is no longer a thing

In the early months of the Trump administration, a leaked FBI report warned about a new kind of homegrown threat: black identity extremists.

The warning reportedly came after six unrelated attacks on police around the country; the FBI portrayed the threat as “an increase in premeditated, retaliatory lethal violence against law enforcement” by people with “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans.”

The claim was widely endorsed by conservative news media outlets but viewed with equally widespread skepticism as a move reminiscent of the FBI’s demonization of black activists in the civil rights era.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked McGarrity if there’s a single killing the FBI could link to Black Lives Matter or similar activist groups. McGarrity’s reply: “To my knowledge, right now, no.”

Pressley continued her attack on “this absurd designation” until McGarrity divulged that the category had been retired at the FBI.

“The designation no longer exists?” Pressley asked, sounding skeptical.

“It hasn’t existed since I’ve been here for 17 months,” McGarrity answered.

To recap: The FBI created a new category of threat and two years later quietly abandoned it without explanation.

Source: 5 Takeaways About The Trump Administration’s Response To Far-Right Extremism

Government removes all mention of ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ extremism from terrorism threat report

Sigh….:

The government has again revised a report that is supposed to update Canadians on the major terrorist threats they face, removing all references to Islamist extremism.

While the report, first released in December, had initially identified attackers “inspired by violent Sunni Islamist ideology” as the main terrorist threat to Canada, that line has now been cut.

All mentions of “Sunni” and “Shia” extremism were also taken out of the annual report, along with section headings on both types of terrorism.

The so-called Islamic State, Al Qaeda and their regional affiliates use terrorism to promote their versions of Sunni Islamist extremist ideology, while Hezbollah is a Shia extremist group.

But Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters Thursday he wanted the terrorist threat report to use language that “did not impugn or condemn an entire religion.”

“The issue here are people who engage in terrorist activity that actually defies the precept of their religion, so to allow their deviant behavior to be a criticism of a total religion or a total culture is just wrong,” he said.

“The idea, the objective here is to get language which is precise, which focuses on the issue that is being reported on in a clear and accurate way that does not impugn an entire community or an entire religion that is not responsible for the terrorist behavior.”

The government had already cut the term “Sikh extremism” from the report following complaints. A section heading on violence linked to the fight for an independent Sikh homeland is now gone.

The latest change was announced on Twitter and Facebook by Liberal MP Ruby Sahota, who wrote that she had worked with Goodale to “remove language” from the report.

The report no longer contains the terms ‘Sikh,’ ‘Shia,’ and ‘Sunni,’” she wrote. “Words matter. Our agencies and departments must never equate any one community or entire religions with extremism.”

But in a blog post Wednesday, former Canadian Security Intelligence Service analyst Phil Gurski likened the government’s repeated second-guessing of the report to a comedy routine.

“To my mind this is just political correctness and electioneering gone mad,” wrote Gurski, who also worked at Public Safety Canada, which produced the threat report.

“The inability to call a threat what it is makes it harder to identify and neutralize it.”

After the report prompted complaints, Goodale said he was confident it was “never intended to encompass or malign entire religions.”

He said he had asked officials to review the terminology “and make the appropriate changes to the language used throughout the government to describe extremism.”

The latest revision of the report contains no references to religions with the exception of terrorist group names such as ISIS and the International Sikh Youth Federation.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus accused the government of playing politics and said he did not understand why it would “just erase this information critical for the security of Canada.”

Despite cutting references to Sikh, Sunni and Shia extremism from the annual report, Public Safety Canada continues to use the terms in its online list of outlawed terrorist groups.

Asked how the descriptions maligned communities, Goodale’s spokesperson Scott Bardsley said: “The impact of these terms may not be readily apparent to some who come from places of privilege, who seldom experience judgment based on skin colour or religion alone.”

Source: Government removes all mention of ‘Sunni’ and ‘Shia’ extremism from terrorism threat report

We can’t fight what we fail to label correctly: Phil Gurski

Agree. Fuzzy wording is not helpful and one can label in an appropriate, focused manner:

If you have never heard the comedy routine ‘The 2,000 year old man” by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, you are really missing something. The original dates back to 1961 but it is still very, very relevant and very, very funny.

In one part, Mel Brooks, playing the 2,000 year-old man, says that WWII lasted longer than it should have and that was all Winston Churchill’s fault. Here’s what Mr. Brooks’ character had to say about that: “‘Ve must conquer da Narjies!’ Now, we were fighting and killing Nazis. We all left and went looking for Narjies!” Or another way to put it is that Churchill extended the war because he told everyone to defeat “the Nar-zis” and the troops stopped fighting the Germans and started looking for Narzis.

Sometimes I wonder if Public Safety Canada would be better run by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner (full disclosure: I worked as a senior policy advisor there, on secondment at CSIS, from October 2013 until my retirement from the civil service in April 2015). The department cannot seem to get the annual 2018 Terrorist Threat to Canada public report right. It has been changed at least twice since it came out and I am not so sure that more changes are not forthcoming.

What, then, has changed? Well, nothing more crucial than the way the department has chosen to describe the terrorist threat to Canada. Under pressure from certain groups – first Canadian Sikhs then Canadian Muslims (gee, is an election coming up perhaps?) – the phrases ‘Sikh extremism’, ‘Sunni Islamist extremism’ and ‘Shia extremism’ have been excised and replaced by anodyne phrases that are only partially reflective of the actual threat. In their place are ‘ extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India’ and ‘individuals or groups who are inspired by violent ideologies and terrorist groups, such as Daesh or al-Qaida (AQ).’

Why the change? Clearly, in order not to offend Canadian Sikhs and Muslims by lumping them together with the very small number of their fellow co-religionists who have opted to use violence to get what they want, and use religion to justify their actions. What is the harm in that?

A lot as it turns out. These phrases are highly inaccurate both for what they say and what they fail to say. Let’s start with ‘extremists who support violent means to establish an independent state within India.’ What is wrong with that? To put it bluntly, they are all Sikhs – nary a Jew or a Seventh-Day Adventist among them. So, calling them ‘Sikh extremists’ is correct. Note that by doing so there is no intent, explicit or implicit, that all Sikh Canadians support this use of violence.

What about ‘individuals or groups who are inspired by violent ideologies and terrorist groups, such as Daesh or al-Qaida (AQ)?’ Aside from the ridiculous insistence on ‘Daesh’ rather than Islamic State (Minister Goodale: Daesh is Arabic for ‘Islamic State’ by the way), this phrase is only partially accurate. I know from my days at CSIS that yes some Canadians are inspired by these terrorist groups but there is also a huge swathe that radicalise to violence in the name of greater Sunni Islamist extremist thought (Shia Islamist extremists are a different beast altogether) that has little or nothing to do with AQ or IS or any other terrorist group. Oh and guess what else? They are all Muslims – nary a Buddhist or an animist among them. Again, using the term ‘Sunni Islamist extremism’, which is what we called it when I was at CSIS, does not mean all Canadian Muslims are terrorists.

To my mind this is just political correctness and electioneering gone mad. Just as ‘trigger warnings’ seem to be everywhere these days, it seems that if any group of 3-5 Canadians say they are offended at something the government caves to their demands.

The inability to call a threat what it is makes it harder to identify and neutralise it. I sure hope that my former colleagues at CSIS are not swallowing this political pablum. And I sure hope that Public Safety doesn’t make more changes to the Public Terrorist Threat Report or before you know it we’ll all be chasing neo-Narzis while the real far right neo-Nazis run free.

The unlikely similarities between the far right and IS

Another article comparing extremists:

Far-right extremists in Britain have been accessing terrorism material published online by the Islamic State group, counter-terrorism experts have told the BBC.

They say neo-Nazis and other right-wing extremists have been studying methods of attack shared by jihadists with their followers on the internet.

But we should not be surprised that they do share some similarities.

‘All-consuming hatred’

Since the middle of last year, MI5, the security service, has been tasked with helping the police tackle the growing threat from British far-right extremists.

Counter-terrorism officers have been using a range of methods, including phone taps, to gather intelligence on what the most violent individuals have been planning or aspiring to do.

In some cases, arrests have been made after suspects have been caught downloading child pornography. But officials say that neo-Nazis and other extremists have also been accessing material to plan attacks published by their ideological enemies, Islamic State.

This may seem strange, but it should not come as a surprise.

Their ideologies may be diametrically opposed to each other but there are some disturbing similarities between them, some of which are obvious, others less so.

Many white supremacists and violent Islamist extremists tend to inhabit a narrow-based world dominated by an all-consuming hatred and a total intolerance of anyone’s views but their own.

For the jihadists of IS, for example, this means treating not only non-Muslims as enemies but also Shia Muslims and anyone they see as co-operating with “the non-believers”.

Using the concept of “Takfir”, jihadists will declare even their co-religionists as “unbelievers” and “apostates” and therefore in their eyes a legitimate target.

This narrow-based intolerance, coupled with gratuitous violence, has been a major factor contributing to the inability of al-Qaeda, IS and other groups to appeal to a wider swathe of Muslim populations around the world.

Likewise in the UK and the rest of Europe, far-right extremists see as enemies all those who – in their eyes – have helped enable changes that they dislike, such as allowing inward migration from Asia and Africa.

In 2011, the Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik carried out his murderous attack in Oslo, not on Muslims or immigrants, but on youth members of a party he blamed for changing the racial mix of Norway.

‘Vile material’

White supremacists rail against a multicultural society.

So too do jihadists. They refer to Muslims living in the West as being “in the grey zone” and constantly urge them not to mix with the predominant non-Muslim populations in Europe.

Both far-right extremists and jihadists see themselves as righteous purists, yet they want very different societies.

What they do share in common is an often obsessive interest in extremely graphic imagery online, much of it encrypted but some of it circulated more widely for recruitment purposes.

Counter-terrorism officers have described some of this material as so vile that staff monitoring it have had to be given counselling.

In the years immediately after the 9/11 attacks of 2001, al-Qaeda made constant use of the imagery of planes going into the Twin Towers.

IS took this a stage further, shocking the world with its gruesome videos of hostages appearing to be beheaded on camera, as well as other atrocities such as men being thrown off high buildings after being “convicted” of homosexuality.

While these had the effect of alienating mainstream Muslim populations, they simultaneously attracted to the cause young men from around the world who often had criminal, psychopathic or sadistic dispositions.

During the IS self-declared caliphate between 2014 and 2019, its practice of enslaving Yazidi girls as young as nine for sex is known to have attracted paedophilic recruits from European countries.

Whitehall officials say far-right extremists have been sharing violent, satanic and occult images and videos, sometimes using gaming and music forums to recruit new members.

The aim, they say, is partly to desensitise people for the violence they believe is inevitable in a coming clash of civilisations.

Lack of cohesion

However, one area where the two groups do differ widely is in co-ordination and cohesion.

Broadly speaking, jihadists are united in wanting to see their ultra-strict version of Sharia Islamic law forcibly imposed on everyone under their rule.

But in Britain, far-right groups that have mostly splintered off from the now-banned National Action show little sign of working together.

Some aspire to what they see as racial purity, others want their own territory where only their own laws apply, while others are simply anarchists, bent on destroying “the system”.

Canada must bring home its own from the ruins of Islamic State

Almost completely silent on the challenges of successful prosecution. And there is a different in terms of letting them return to Canada and actively facilitating their return:

I despise Daesh (the Islamic State group) and its ilk. In fact, I have spent a better part of my life challenging their religious  interpretations and practices.

Yet, I believe that Ottawa must repatriate Canadians who answered the Daesh call, because this is the right thing to do if we truly believe in human rights and constitutional principles.

For children’s sake

We must learn from the recent death of Jarrar, the newborn son of British-born Shamima Begum, who left the UK as a 15-year-old. The baby died after London revoked Shamima’s citizenship and left them both to ostensibly stew in her hate.

Under British law, Shamima Begum was a child when she left. Now, a British baby is dead for his parents’ sins. As British MP Anna Soubry wrote, the UK breached its duty to Jarrar.

There are at least 32 Canadians being held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces

The former Conservative MP rightfully argued that Shamima should have been brought to the UK, questioned, and had the law books thrown at her while her son should have been given the “protection and the support that a civilised country provides for all its children.”

Kurdish authorities say that 5,000 former alleged IS fighters and their families are being held in makeshift prisons in Iraq.

This includes 1,300 children. Russia repatriated 27 children in February. France has agreed to repatriate around 130 fighters and their families.

Belgians, who composed the largest number of Caliphate fighters per capita, are not feeling particularly welcome. Late last year, going against public opinion, a Belgian court ruled that the government must repatriate its citizens.

In a principled and courageous decision, the Solomonic judge ruled that bringing the children without their mothers – who were convicted in absentia – would violate their human rights. The judge also imposed a daily penalty of 5,000 euros per child against the government until they were returned.

Belgium’s migration secretary said: “We won’t punish young children for their parents’ misdeeds. They have not chosen the Islamic State.”

Unfortunately, an appellate court overturned the decision a few weeks ago and now 160 Belgian children are in limbo.

A mature debate

Canadian Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale says the government has not decided what to do.

Canada needs to act before we read about Canadian children dying in Syrian camps.

Rather than having a mature  debate about bringing IS members to justice, our politicians appear to be gauging the public mood rather than stepping up

According to CBC, there are at least 32 Canadians being held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. Dr Alexandra Bain of the Canadian group Families Against Violent Extremism (FAVE) claims that more than half of those held in Syria are under the age of five.

Rather than having a mature and constitutionally rooted debate about bringing Daesh members to justice and dealing with non-combatants as well as women and children, our politicians appear to be guaging the public mood rather than stepping up.

Leadership may require that you sometimes stand up to mobocracy (the whims of the majority) and it always means standing up for constitutionally entrenched rights – even for the detested.

Why bring them back?

Rather than following the examples set by Macedonia, Russia, France, etc, Canada caved into British “arm-twisting” and breached a deal with Kurdish authorities to repatriate Canadian citizens, according to a report by the Guardian.

These individuals went there for reasons ranging from ideological affinity, out of a sense of religious obligation, due to being brainwashed, the promise of adventure, the opportunity to create an Islamic utopia, out of empathy to relieve the suffering of others, while others were duped, forced or taken against their will.

Why should we bring them back?

First, as citizens, they have a right to come back to Canada. Though this does not impose an obligation on Ottawa to take proactive steps to bring back adults, a strong argument can be made that there is a mandatory duty owed to Canadian children.

Indeed, under the common law, our government through the courts have the parens patraie jurisdiction to look out for the best interest and welfare of our children. This is reason alone.

Setting a precedent

Second, contrary to what many people want, under international law we can’t just watch as these people are executed without due process, or held to rot even as evil as they are. Otherwise, as President Trump said correctly, if they are left alone they may continue to create havoc elsewhere.

We must set a precedent and send out a message to any of our citizens who may contemplate such actions in the future that there are consequences for such actions. This is best done by putting those who are culpable on trial.

Leaving Canada to participate in a terror group is an offence under the criminal code punishable to a term of up to 10 years. Indeed, as General Lord Richard Dannatt, a former head of the British army, told the Guardian about British fighters:

“They have to be put through due process and imprisoned if that is the right thing to do,” he said. “But I think it is also important that we treat them fairly with justice and tempered with a bit of mercy as well because I think the way we treat them may well have important significance for the way other people view our society.

“We don’t want to see others radicalised and going off overseas in the future. How we treat these people coming back – fairly but firmly – we’ve got to get it right.”

We have failed

Third, most of these individuals were born “here” and more importantly were radicalised “here” not “there”. We bear part of the responsibility because we – as a society – and our institutions failed in not preventing them from being radicalised and in the case of many women from being groomed as brides.

It is tempting to dehumanise them and easy to “other” them, but let us not forget that we extend full due process rights even to paedophiles, mass murderers and serial killers.

Fourth, some of these individuals may serve as resources to fight radicalisation after they have been de-radicalised, after serving time, if deserved.

As argued in a New York Times op-ed by Bryant Neal Vinas, America’s first Al-Qaeda fighter, these returning fighters “can be a strategic asset” to fight radicalisation if we play it right.

Fifth, western nations, including Canada, pursue criminals to the far corners of the world using extradition treaties and other means. Indeed, we have even engaged in extraordinary rendition and participated in torture of our own citizens when we thought it was necessary. Yet, now it’s too difficult to pursue these people?

Of course, it would be disingenuous to argue that traitors who engage in terrorism should be treated the same as other criminals, because the state interests are especially compelling. At the same time, the values engaged in this context – equality, freedom of speech, religion, and association – make it important that we tread in a firm but cautious manner.

It is high time that we engage in reasoned, nuanced and considered debate in a manner consistent with our well-established values, including justice, fairness and compassion.

We cannot base our decisions on emotion, populist fear, hatred or our whims, because then we are no better than them.

Source: Canada must bring home its own from the ruins of Islamic State

Is there an Austrian link to New Zealand mosque attacks?

More on the possible Austrian link:

The Austrian authorities are investigating possible connections after it emerged that the main suspect in the Christchurch mosque attacks made a donation of €1,500 (£1,293) to the far-right Identitarian Movement in Austria (IBÖ).

The suspect visited Austria from 27 November to 4 December last year, according to Austria’s Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, who said that potential links to Austrian extremists were being looked into.

Police have searched the house of the charismatic, social media-savvy IBÖ leader, Martin Sellner, who has done much to raise the profile of the Identitarians throughout Europe.

The group is hostile to multiculturalism, and claims to defend Europe against migrants, especially Muslims.

Mr Sellner has firmly denied any involvement with the 15 March attacks, which killed 50 people, but admits he received the donation and wrote an email of thanks.

In a video posted online, he said: “I am not a member of a terrorist organisation. I have nothing to do with this man, other than that I passively received a donation from him.”

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has said the group will be dissolved if it is deemed to be a terrorist organisation.

“There must be no tolerance for dangerous ideologies in our country – no matter if it’s radical Islam or right-wing fanaticism,” he said.

The main suspect in the Christchurch mosque attacks, Australian Brenton Tarrant, also seems to have had a preoccupation with Austrian history – something the interior minister said was being investigated.

Austrian landmark

The suspect’s clothes and weapons were covered with writing and symbols.

One of the words daubed in white on a gun magazine was “Vienna”.

There was also a string of names of historical figures, including that of Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, the military commander of Vienna during the Ottoman siege of 1683.

Starhemberg and his company of 20,000 men defended the city against the 120,000-strong Ottoman army, which was eventually defeated by the combined forces of Poles, Habsburgs and the Holy Roman Empire.

The Battle of Vienna in 1683 is often cited by historians as the point where the Ottoman advance on Western Europe was stopped; the turning of the tide in the Muslim/Christian struggle for the control of Europe.

As such, it is a date celebrated by the far right, including, it seems, the Christchurch suspect, who is a self-confessed anti-Muslim white supremacist.

‘The Great Replacement’

The Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance (DOEW), which researches extreme-right activity, says there are “many rhetorical and ideological overlaps” between groups like the Identitarians and the suspected Christchurch attacker.

“The title of the attacker’s manifesto, The Great Replacement (which sees immigrants as a threat to “white” Western culture) was a slogan popularised by the Identitarians,” DOEW said on its website.

“Regardless of the outcome of the investigation,” DOEW says, the Identitarians seem to be sticking to their narrative “for the time being”. It points to an IBÖ statement from last week, which speaks of the “Great Replacement” and calls for “De-Islamification”.

The whole affair is uncomfortable not just for the Identitarians, but for Austria’s government as well.

Mr Kurz’s own conservative Austrian People’s Party is in coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), making Austria the only country in Western Europe with a far-right presence in government.

FPÖ leader and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said on Wednesday that his party had “nothing to do with the Identitarians”.

However, Austrian media published photos of FPÖ politicians with members of the group, and Bernhard Weidinger from DOEW told the BBC that there were many links between FPÖ politicians and members of the IBÖ, who often attended each other’s events.

In 2016, before he became interior minister, Herbert Kickl gave a speech to a far-right conference in Linz, called Defenders of Europe. The FPÖ politician addressed his audience, which included Identitarians, as “like-minded people”, according to Austrian media reports.

The FPÖ has also long celebrated the Battle of Vienna victory of 1683. In 2010 it even published a comic, set during the siege, featuring Mr Strache as a knight saving Vienna’s cathedral from an Ottoman minaret.

And when Mr Strache and Mr Kurz presented their government programme back in 2017, shortly before the coalition was sworn in, they broke with tradition, and held the event on Vienna’s Kahlenberg mountain, where the Battle of Vienna took place.

Asked if there was any historical significance to the choice of venue, Mr Kurz said no.

But in a video blog, Mr Sellner hailed it as “a good omen”.

Source: Is there an Austrian link to New Zealand mosque attacks?

What is gained by stripping ISIL returnees of citizenship?

While I agree citizenship revocation is counterproductive, I find this to be an overly sympathetic view of the women who supported ISIL, given the difficulties is establishing what they did and did not do during their time there, not to mention the difficulty in laying charges and securing convictions:

The first ISIL recruit I interviewed, in 2014 in Delft, the Netherlands, was a 22-year-old woman who had become an ISIL bride after being indoctrinated by a recruiter. It took the recruiter two months of continuous communication online to convince her to join what he called “the cause” and to be “part of the global struggle against the atrocities of the West.”

After months of clandestine planning, Zoleikha (not her real name) cautiously set out for the airport, ready to step aboard a flight to Iraq. She had followed every detail of the recruiter’s guidance except one: She left a short note to her family, telling them of her decision.

The family had suspected something was up. Zoleikha had been evasive for a while, and they had got in the routine of searching her room for clues when she was out of the house. When her father found the note, his heart skipped a beat and he could barely breathe. He knew what he had to do. Not more than an hour went by before the authorities stopped Zoleikha as she was about to board the plane.

I spoke with her father, a man of Moroccan descent, who owned the local dry-cleaning business. He was a hard-working family man. Of his four children, one was in high school and three had graduated from college, including Zoleikha. He had built a new life for his family and hoped his children would prosper.

He and his family followed some cultural traditions and occasionally attended mosque services. But it was important to him that his children assimilate into European culture. When he found the note, he remembered an Imam who had spoken about the challenges of radicalization and the need to be vigilant about recruiters within their community. The Imam had encouraged partnership with the local government and trust of the authorities.

Out of desperation, the father called the authorities. He told me he had done it for his daughter’s sake and for the sake of the country that had given him a new beginning. Zoleikha never reached Iraq. She was arrested, and then she was lucky enough to be released conditionally under court supervision.

There are many women who were not fortunate enough to have such an intervention. By most estimates, approximately 5,000 European citizens have been recruited to Iraq and Syria by ISIL since 2013. Many of the women left family, freedom and fortune to pursue an uncertain future. They arrived in Syria and Iraq, and what happened to them after that is a mystery. However, now, with the demise of the Islamic State, they are contemplating returning to the countries they left behind.

In Europe, conversations about the fate of returnees have intensified since the UK Home Office decided to strip British citizenship from Shamima Begum — who joined ISIL at 15 along with two other schoolgirls from the UK. The question for us as a society is: What do we do in these cases? Is appropriate to indiscriminately strip members of such a heterogeneous group of citizenship?

Debate has focused on legal questions that surround such a move, which would cause the troublesome dilemma of creating stateless individuals. However, human rights and counter-terrorism strategies deserve more consideration than they have gotten.

There are three main factors to consider in the complex matter of ISIL recruits who want to come home.

Why they left their home country

The first step is figuring out whether those who joined ISIL qualify as foreign terrorist fighters or whether they just went along for the ride. Some of the recruits have carried out unspeakable acts, but there are others who have supported ISIL through nonviolent means (as jihadi brides) or were forced to go along (wives and children).

It is vital to understand the spectrum of active participation to passive victimhood, as it has become clear that some of the women have suffered repeated traumas while having little willful participation in ISIL activities. Of course, few cases are likely to fall at the extremes of the spectrum. The majority of returnees likely will fall somewhere in the middle.

We need to approach the way we deal with these returnees across a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum we can imagine rare instances where an individual would be welcomed home without retribution and would re-enter society. There might also be exceptional instances where revoking citizenship and/or meting out the harshest punishments is appropriate. A case-by-case approach would help in the determination of what is a proportional response and appropriateness of criminal investigations.

How vulnerable to coercion were they?

The global terrorism database suggests that a leading factor in the ultimate decision to pursue a life of terrorism is a sense of societal alienation. This can be particularly heightened in young people whose sense of self is still developing and who suffer from self-estrangement. My field work shows that those who have sought to join ISIL from Western countries are not poor or uneducated, although poverty and lack of education are typically possible factors leading to vulnerability.

Alienation has been described as a leading driver, particularly among second-generation immigrants. Those who experience feelings of alienation seek empowerment, identity and a purpose often in misguided ways. Counselling can help with identity crisis, however, youths can fall into recruiters’ traps of before any such help arrives. This is not to release all blame and culpability for unforgivable actions. But many of the young women who were coaxed into joining the cause with a promise of identity and empowerment were subject to further alienation and subjugation. A person whose vulnerabilities have been exploited is quite different from one who knowingly and purposefully seeks out “the cause.”

The circumstances of their return

No country wants to threaten the security of its citizens by welcoming with open arms anyone who has been radicalized and continues to hold on to a jihadi mission. However, not all of those who wish to return are still aligned with “the cause.” Some returnees admit that they lived through nightmare experiences that were nothing like what they had been promised. And now they feel regret and remorse.

Policy-makers and academics can work with former recruits and terrorists and tell their stories in compelling ways so that others can learn why they started on a terrorist trajectory and see how it did not work out. They can shed light on the coercive tactics used by recruiters and ultimately help to devise counter-terrorism strategies that are not reactive but rather preventative.

In the world of securitization and advanced terrorism studies, the goal of counter-terrorism is to prevent attacks. Populist extrajudicial rulings against returnees, for example stripping them of their citizenship, could weaken and drastically derail these long-term prevention efforts by deepening society’s divisions. They could also create a perfect breeding ground for further radicalism. By allowing people who joined ISIL back into their home countries and putting them on trial, we can reduce such risks and furthermore create societal benefits.

As Fiona de Londras shows, upholding human rights and the rule of law does not hamper our ability to act. It enhances it, and is essential to the long-term success of counter-terrorism efforts.

Of course, until the police and courts determine whether and to what degree the returnees are culpable, returnees should be put in some sort of penitentiary facilities. If the courts find them guilty, they have to be sentenced for their crimes. If the courts and the police agree that they do not pose a substantial danger (be it through radicalization of others or inflicting violence), returnees should enter into a reintegration program that will help them re-establish familial and community ties. These returnees need help to find ways to participate in society and to address the alienation they might have experienced. Reintegration is important in the long term to reduce the risk of radicalization – both for the individual and for society. It fosters belonging, which is something the politics of fear cannot do.

These returnees might well serve as the best source of data. In counter-terrorism studies, field research is very limited. Because of security and access restrictions researchers often depend on incomplete secondary accounts and analysis. Working with returnees would allow us to better align counter-terrorism measures with the forces that activate terrorism, thereby achieving the goal of deterrence and perhaps prevention.

Disillusionment and disengagement in returnees can serve as cautionary tales for others by illustrating the false realities of joining such a mission. Stripping citizenship and other arbitrary punishments only support the extremist belief that the West does not care about the rest (i.e., Muslim citizens), leading to further escalation by pushing marginalized individuals and communities farther away from mainstream society. Such acts breed mistrust, making it less likely that marginalized groups will approach authorities when there is a problem of any kind.

“Why did you want to join ISIL?” I asked Zoleikha. She looked conflicted. “What could be greater than being part of building a new state?” she responded. She still seemed to be grappling with her identity.

Her father was relieved that he had been able to stop her before it was too late. And if she had been stripped of her citizenship? Perhaps it would make the next scenario where a father discovers his daughter about to join ISIL a different one. Perhaps that father would not do what Zoleikha’s father did: Report her to authorities, which prevented her from joining ISIL.

Source: What is gained by stripping ISIL returnees of citizenship?

Our Brother, Our Executioner

Good commentary by Aziz:

Whenever someone used to ask me if I was Muslim, I often gave an evasive answer, something like, “I was born Muslim” or “My parents are Muslim.”

It was a strange way to phrase it. I told myself that the purpose of this hairsplitting was intellectual clarity, despite the fact that I had attended a mosque my entire childhood, that I had read the Quran in both Arabic and English, and that I felt personally connected to the history of Islam. Perhaps this was the natural recourse for someone who came of age after 9/11 and was taught to retreat into invisibility because of the dangers of being Muslim. I knew, in my heart, that I was drawing the distinction only to appear safer to white people, to show that I was one of the good ones, worthy of belonging.

This was not just respectability politics: It was an act of self-erasure.

On Friday, nearly 50 of my fellow Muslims were massacred in cold blood in New Zealand. Not murdered but lynched, their deaths live-streamed to the sound of laughter. I long ago ceased to feel shocked at the violence directed against my community. But the heartbreak still comes.

The killer knew which day to pick. Friday is the Islamic Sabbath, when Muslims gather in the mosque to bow their heads in devotion to the divine. As they prayed, they might have been thinking about their children at school or what to make for dinner, unaware that soon their loved ones would be washing their bodies in accordance with Islamic tradition, preparing for the funeral prayer, the only one in Islam that has no Athan, or call to prayer, because the Athan was recited into their ears when they were born. When these Muslims saw the white stranger enter the mosque, they would have had the Islamic greeting on their tongues: “Assalamu alaikum.” Peace be upon you.

We know from the terrorist’s recording that one of his first victims welcomed him with the words “Hello, brother.” Muslims have long been depicted as an uncivilized, warlike people, but the opposite is true. We want to belong, to be good neighbors, to call the white man who enters our place of worship our brother. Instead he turned out to be our executioner.

The Muslims at the two New Zealand mosques were liquidated not just by a man filled with hatred, but by the ideas that he clung to, ideas about racial superiority and who his country belonged to. This was true in Quebec, when Muslims were gunned down in their mosque in 2017. It was true in Pittsburgh, when Jews who had been helping Muslim refugees were murdered in their synagogue in 2018. It was true in Norway, when 77 people were killed by a white bigot. It was true in Charleston, when black churchgoers were mowed down by another radicalized white man. A pathology of hatred has spread around the world, and it has put all our lives at risk.

Islamophobia is not a fringe problem: It is embedded in much of Western society. For over two decades now — the span of an entire generation — the whole Muslim community has been forced to accept collective guilt and punishment for every act of terror or violence committed by one of its members. Never would, or should, this standard be applied to white people, who seem to have kept the privilege of individual differentiation for themselves.

This is what those who are suspicious of Muslims cannot grasp: that the definition of racism is an inability to discriminate between the old man with the skullcap and beard before you and the suicide-bomber you saw on TV.

And yet people with millions of online followers have been incessantly preaching that Islamophobia is not the problem; Islam is. The Canadian intellectual Jordan Peterson has said that Islamophobia is a “word created by fascists.” The neuroscientist Sam Harris called it an “intellectual blood libel” that serves only to shield Islam from criticism. After I wrote a series of articles critical of Mr. Harris, a young white man from California emailed me to tell me he carried a gun — what kind did I carry? he asked.

If Islam is the problem, perhaps we should keep an eye on these Muslims. Send patrols into their neighborhoods. Make them prove that they are not terrorists. Ban them, as President Trump wanted. Ideas are not harmless: They are taken seriously by thousands of people. If only one person applies these deranged ideas about the other to the real world, we get a mass-murder like the one we just witnessed.

I greet a neighbor; he smiles and wishes me a good day. How do I know that once he turns on his computer, he isn’t pumping himself full of hatred of me and my people, raging in the dark cesspools of the web, venting his frustration that we even exist, and how dare we try and belong? Racism begins with ideas. It ends with violence.

When I saw the news from New Zealand, and thought of the number of times I have erased my Muslim identity, I shook with anger. When I thought of the number of times I have let casual racism toward Muslims slide, so not to come off as threatening, I shuddered in anguish. There was a time when I was ashamed of my religion, ashamed of my heritage. Now I am ashamed only of having once felt this way.

“If one is attacked as a Jew,” Hannah Arendt wrote, “one must defend oneself as a Jew.” When you are attacked as a Muslim, you must respond as a Muslim. And today, we are all Muslims — all of us who are committed to the light of our civilization, to peace, to saving our society from the primitive barbarism of such poisoned, inadequate minds.

Omer Aziz is the author of the forthcoming “Brown Boy: A Story of Race, Religion, and Inheritance.”

Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

More relevant reporting:

As the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Syria enters its final stages, the BBC’s Jewan Abdi says the mood amongst many of the jihadists’ supporters who have left the area, including many women, remains defiant.

The encampment in the village of Baghuz is barely more than a few holes in the dirt covered with blankets. It is squalid and filthy.

But above it flies the black Islamic State flag, fresh and clean. IS fighters had raised it only the day before, an act of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

“That’s a sign they will fight,” says a soldier belonging to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the front lines battling the jihadists.

Just 24 hours later the battle resumed. It was the end of a ceasefire that had seen more than 12,000 leave in the preceding few days.

One day last week in the early morning, more than 20 trucks led by Humvees armed with machine guns went inside the tiny IS enclave to evacuate jihadist fighters and their families.

I followed these vehicles on their return journey to the desert where they were checked, separated, and sent on to camps run by the SDF forces. One military commander told me the total number of people evacuated was about 7,000.

The hunger and anger was evident on their faces. As I walked among them with my camera, trying to talk to them and film, several IS women suddenly attacked me and threw stones, dust and cans.

“Go film the brothers, don’t come here. Go. Leave. Go film them, we’re the woman of the Islamic State, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is greatest),” they said.

A few weeks ago, the SDF estimated the number of IS families and fighters left remaining in Baghuz to be between 1,500 and 2,000 people. But in just two days last week, 9,000 people emerged.

The final territory under IS’s control may be on its last legs in Syria, but the ideology remains strong among those who have left.

Many of the IS women I encountered threatened of violent jihad and raising their children to become jihadist fighters.

Two captors for one woman

Among the thousands of people turning up out of Baghuz, I also found victims of IS’s notorious brutality, including one Yazidi woman called Adiba.

A mother of two, Adiba was enslaved for five years after IS attacked her small village in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014.

Her husband was one of the hundreds of Yazidi men killed by the jihadist group, and she – like thousands of Yazidi women – was forced to convert to Islam and was used as a sex slave.

She says she was enslaved by a Moroccan man who beat her constantly and raped her. He was the father of her two-year-old child.

“I had to marry him. When we were alone he wasn’t good to me, he was always angry with me, but in front of people he treated me well,” Adiba tells me.

After Adiba’s first captor died, she was taken by another Moroccan man named Ahmed – orders she says came from her first captor in the event of his death.

Ahmed, who surrendered to the SDF last week, has denied enslaving Adiba.

Most of the people evacuated from Baghuz recently, including many foreigners who travelled to Syria and Iraq to live under IS rule, have been transported to the SDF-controlled camp al-Hol, in the north-east of the country.

The camp was designed to accommodate 20,000 people but the UN says conditions there are dire as the numbers have risen to more than 66,000.

The global dream of an Islamic State caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law – is on the brink of collapse, with most of its leadership gone and many captured by the SDF and coalition forces.

Hundreds of IS fighters have surrendered. Separated from their families, they sit in long queues in an area inaccessible to journalists, where US Special Forces and SDF soldiers interrogate them and send them on to detention centres and prisons under Kurdish control.

After losing their self-proclaimed caliphate, a sense of sadness, anger and indignation was clear among these fighters who are stuck in the middle of the desert, waiting to be moved into detention camps, away from their wives and children.

Source: Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate