ISIS Members Must Face Trial in 'Home' Countries

Published March 1st, 2019 - 02:37 GMT
ISIS in Mosul (AFP/File Photo)
ISIS in Mosul (AFP/File Photo)

As Daesh’s so-called caliphate gasps its final breaths, floods of foreigners are being apprehended by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), telling stories of starvation, repeated displacement and abandonment by the terror group’s senior leadership. Perhaps even more compelling are the stories they tell of the countries they left behind.


“They don’t let us live our religion (to the full) in France. We have no rights. You cannot wear the niqab,” one French woman complained to an AFP reporter.

“If you think I’m a bad person, it doesn’t mean you have to throw me in the sea,” an Irish captive opined to an Independent journalist.

“I have nowhere else to go... How can they leave me sitting here like this in limbo?” questioned a Canadian member of Daesh.
Simply stated, the moral case for repatriating nationals who fled their countries of origin to join Daesh is weak. Moreover, processing foreign recruits through the Iraqi justice system may deter those who assume that their countries will take them back and apply a softer legal touch.

While it may feed some recruits’ perceived sense of persecution and alienation at home, a just approach sees foreign members prosecuted as close as possible to the fallen caliphate. As the number of foreigners captured by the SDF this month surpassed 800 from more than 40 countries, the urgency of prosecuting the detainees locally will increase dramatically.

Not only do many of these recruits continue to lie to international media about their affiliation with Daesh to evade culpability (how many cooks, cleaners and drivers can one terrorist organization have?), they express acute entitlement to returning home. While reintegrating the children of Daesh recruits — most born under the black banner of terror — is another matter entirely, denying repatriation for their parents is the first step in reckoning with the crimes of Daesh.

The recent case of Shamima Begum has underlined the complexity of such decisions. Now stripped of her British citizenship, Begum has expressed little remorse for her involvement with Daesh. Bangladeshi authorities have made it clear that she is neither welcome nor sanctioned to enter the country. Hope remains that Begum’s infant will have the opportunity to live a normal, healthy life in the custody of a responsible third party.

As for Begum, her complaints that speaking to the media has harmed her case is yet another reminder that she remains unwilling to renounce her support for terrorism and is seemingly unable to offer even a performative apology for her grave errors.

Many argue that trying members of Daesh at home is the legal and ethical responsibility of states that produced these recruits. Some say that local actors may not be able to safely keep detainees in custody long-term and that their countries of origin are best suited to process them through their respective legal systems. What these arguments ignore is the most human element of all: The Iraqi and Syrian people, who suffered under the waves of foreigners that eagerly overran their lands with death and destruction. They deserve to see Daesh recruits put on trial locally.

Ideological and material support for crimes against humanity should not permit extradition. Instead, these violations merit handover to the Iraqi authorities, who continue to accept detainees from the SDF for near-term handling and subsequent trials. The deterrent value for future recruits is profound, as the message resounds that radicalized individuals will not escape swift justice.

Certainly, the manner in which some trials have been conducted in Iraq is concerning from a procedural standpoint. Expedient and often impervious to the pleas of those who stand before the court, these scenes indicate a desperate need to seek retribution for the years of murder, generational sexual violence and torture that Daesh exacted. Some officials have called for the establishment of a UN tribunal to prosecute accused terrorists; while this endeavor would be lengthy and logistically complex, UN experts were already in talks with Kurdish parties in 2017 to address systemic weaknesses in local courts.

In traveling to Daesh-controlled territory, recruits violated a precious pact with their countries of origin. By pledging allegiance to the extremist pseudo-state, recruits removed themselves from the fold of legitimate society. Their devotion to living under Daesh rule should be taken at face value in their prosecution: The right to seek the protection of their home countries was forfeited as soon as they embraced membership of a group whose graphic acts of terror were broadcast across Twitter, Telegram, YouTube and its official channels from 2014. To join the group was to intimately endorse its most violent tendencies.


Authorities will not be so fortunate to identify on video most of the foreigners who beheaded prisoners, employed civilians as human shields in urban combat, or purchased female Yazidi captives for sexual enslavement. The burden of proof is now on foreign detainees to explain how they ended up in Daesh territory.
As their adopted nation of terror and inhumanity crumbles around them, foreign members of Daesh must confront an unforgiving reality: Face your fate in the country you chose, not the one whose values of liberty and justice you abandoned.


Madison Clough is a strategic communications professional residing in Riyadh. She holds a master’s degree in international security from George Mason University and formerly consulted as a monitoring and evaluation specialist on a countering violent extremism project funded by the US Department of Homeland Security.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


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