Issued by CEMO Center - Paris
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French government’s challenges in confronting threat of ISIS returnees

Thursday 16/March/2023 - 12:22 PM
The Reference
Doaa Emam


Those returning from terrorist organizations represent a grave concern for governments that fear the spread of the violent approach adopted by them, forming extremist cells that carry out terrorist operations, or providing information and material support. Hence, some governments have refused the return of their citizens who joined ISIS, taking strict measures in this regard, such as revoking citizenship, revoking passports, and other measures to prevent their return.


France receives returnees

Despite the security restrictions imposed by many countries, France received a number of female ISIS returnees, whose ages range from 19 to 56 years old. Arrest warrants were issued against seven of them, and eight were detained at the end of January.

The Ministry of Justice and the Anti-Terrorism Unit in Paris said that 47 people who were in camps in northeastern Syria have returned to France, including 15 women and 32 minors.

It is noteworthy that a small number of returnees participated in the battlefields, which caused governments to begin viewing them as a potential threat.

According to the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, which conducts field research on ISIS defectors and returnees, there are cases in which women were forced to join ISIS, although there are others who embraced the radical ideology, and some of them played important roles. Therefore, monitoring the returnees and correcting their misconceptions is an urgent necessity.


Under the microscope of the security services

There are many experiences and cases of returnees from ISIS and before it al-Qaeda, as this is nothing new, said Boun Ould Bahi, a Mauritanian researcher and academic in political science, adding that perhaps the most prominent examples are the Tunisian and Libyan experiences after cracking down on the two terrorist organizations in Iraq and Syria and the flight of their members to North Africa.

He added in exclusive statements to the Reference that there were international positions that denounced the manner in which the families of returnees were dealt with at the time, as they were put under the microscope of the security services and their detention was justified by the fear of danger, which was inconsistent with the values of humanity and human rights, the most important of which is the provision of guarantees for a fair trial for those involved or suspects.

Ould Bahi stated that the issue of returnees should not be viewed from the security angle only, but should be viewed from the humanitarian, developmental and economic angle. He added that the choice of ISIS or al-Qaeda was not the best, and was perhaps among the worst options for them, and there are countries that have actually witnessed terrorist acts attributed to returnees, but the question is whether these countries have done what is necessary at the level of ideological review, rehabilitation and treatment.


Confronting terrorism by eliminating its causes

“States must confront terrorism by eliminating its causes. The issue is related to a person who has deviated from the path of righteousness and may have undergone an ideological review. In any case, they must undergo rehabilitation and training programs, because they will face difficulties integrating them into society, economic problems, and residency problems,” Ould Bahi continued.


Rehabilitation and integration

Regarding rehabilitation and integration of returnees, Ahmed Kamel El-Beheiry, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that some Western countries have a methodology for rehabilitating returnees from ISIS, whether they are women or children. He added that while France, England, Germany, Australia and Belgium took back a number of children in February 2023, they sent security delegations to choose the elements that would return under unfair conditions, especially since there are 19,000 children in ISIS camps, most of whom are from European parents, and there are women who joined ISIS at the age of 15. He explained that rehabilitation has become a special necessity for children and women, as the children cannot be punished.