Anne Speckhard and Molly Ellenberg As published in Homeland Security Today: Samantha Elhassani, an American woman…
As published in Homeland Security Today:
Last week ICSVE researchers were in Brussels to discuss our work concerning issues of repatriations of European ISIS members to face justice at home. In that regard, ICSVE has been working with EU member states over the past year passing research interview notes from detainees who wish to have them shared with their EU home justice ministries. ICSVE has worked the most on this initiative with the German Justice Ministry, namely the federal prosecutors and police who have been readying German cases for prosecutions, should their detained ISIS members be returned home. ICSVE has also worked in this regard with the UK, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, Ireland, the U.S. and Montenegro, although to a lesser degree. It’s part of a growing effort to find solutions to the thorny issues surrounding ISIS detainees, particularly those held in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) where there is a great deal of instability – particularly in light of the recent Turkish invasion of North East Syria and the hundreds of prison escapes that occurred and the concerns that engendered among the detainees as well as worldwide.
The ICSVE view is that by providing research interview notes at the detainees’ request and with full permission, along with a preliminary psychological assessment, including ratings on 288 variables that are asked about in our in-depth interviews, and our observations of levels of radicalization at three different time points (before leaving to ISIS, peak commitment to ISIS and presently), EU and other countries’ Justice Ministries can make better-informed choices about those who may be repatriated and whether or not they will be able to make a successful prosecution. Lisa Smith’s case is a positive example in that regard in which ICSVE researchers were also involved, as her child was brought to safety while Lisa is facing criminal charges and will stand trial.
At present many of the EU member states vehemently argue against repatriations, even of ISIS women and children; particularly France and Sweden fall in this category. Norway and Finland both faced dire political crises of late as well when one or more ISIS women were to be repatriated. The reluctance by EU member states to take responsibility for those who left from their territories to join ISIS is due to concerns about ISIS returnees constituting a danger to European society, inability to prosecute and imprison them, and concerns that they will seed themselves in prisons and fail to ever rehabilitate and reintegrate back into society. These are not unfounded fears given that ICSVE has already found over 10 ISIS interviewees who reverted back to the group after denouncing it for some time.
In our meeting with the EU officials we repeated our offer to work with EU member states, sharing notes when detainees wish them to be shared and supporting repatriations for those countries who wish to prosecute their ISIS members at home.
In the same time frame the SDF announced that agreements are being made to begin to hold trials of ISIS members who left from EU member states in Kurdish Syria, i.e. Rojava. The details of how this would play out were revealed this past week by Belgian journalist Guy Van Vlierden who obtained a copy of the Syrian Kurdish self-administration’s draft proposal agreement with the EU. (See it in translation below.)
The Syrian Kurdish self-administration in Rojava draft agreement with the European Union on ISIS members and families. The project is to be implemented in several stages. The first stage: Divide the camp into several sections:
- This was done by sorting certain citizens of the countries in batches according to their ease of transport, so that we started with the simplest and the priorities of the orphans, then the young and their mothers. They are sorted according to their background/origins and the degree of radicalization.
- Build schools or an orphanage so that the children are brought up and present as long as possible during the day, far from their mother to keep them away from fanatic thinking. Schools can be boarding schools.
- Carry out rehabilitation programs for women.
- Support the Center for Extremism Studies to provide a database on ISIS which support rehabilitation programs.
- Recreational and sports centers.
- Health centers.
- To continue to communicate with their country so that orphans are delivered without father or without mother or family.
- Surrender of women, who have nothing to do with crimes, of sick women (their percentage is not more than 7%), and those who were dragged but who turned out be innocent, in coordination with their country.
- Prepare local courts to try ISIS women, in accordance with the mechanisms that will be adopted to try all ISIS members. We are looking for international support for the creation of special international courts within the jurisdiction of self-administration.
- Extradition of convicts after having spent some time in self-administration prisons + those who have good behavior towards their country to complete their sentences in coordination between the administration and their countries.
- Start the trial of those who participated with ISIS in the commission of average crimes (by law to 4 to 10 years of imprisonment).
- It must be worked from the start, and it understands the dangerous ISIS fighters who committed the atrocities, and their number must not exceed more than 100, which is about 30. This is the ideal number. They should be tried for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Penalties should go up to 15 years and for life.
- Each country provides funding.
- The European Union creates a fund to finance the transportation of prisoners, the construction of new camps, the payment of salaries, legal costs, work teams and
- build new prisons when needed, and perhaps participate in surveillance
- and many other things that require long and serious discussions and teams for joint work.
The second part of the agreement:
- Opening of official diplomatic channels with these countries to support the administration in all discussions for the solution in Syria and press to participate in constitutional commissions, for example.
- Partnership with the local Kurdish Red Crescent, local organizations or Save the Children.
- Support self-governing institutions with experience and financially as well as.
- Build a strategic partnership with self-government institutions to fight against extremism around the world.
- SDF participates in meetings of the international coalition against terrorism in a way.
- Courts created for this purpose must obtain legal recognition.Signing of detailed and separate agreements: 1- Tests 2- Rehabilitation 3-
- Support for self-administration.
- Court projects should be private and independent to try all those who are affiliated with ISIS, including women. It’s a project that needs financial resources and international legal support and the creation and rehabilitation of infrastructure.
The agreement appears very coherent and logical and will support many of the EU concerns about those ISIS members who left from the EU, but who member states do not wish to repatriate, including what to do with their children. The problems lie in whether the Kurdish self-administration can be seen by the EU member states as a legitimate actor for carrying out these trials as the UN will not be running a tribunal (given Assad and the Russians would veto it and such a tribunal would also have to try Assad for his war crimes). Some international lawyers argue that given the self-administration is legitimately governing they can carry out such trials and that quickly pressing charges and doing so is appropriate.
The other problem lies in financing and support for the project. Trials are costly, as is building and staffing adequate prisons. Currently ISIS detainees are held in difficult and crowded conditions and the SDF is deeply stressed by attacks from violent prisoners, particularly in the women’s camps where ISIS enforcers still committed to ISIS punish those who speak out against the group.
EU member states have long avoided recognition and interaction with the SDF, fearing that they are dealing with the PKK, a designated terrorist group. Thus it is highly important and illuminating that the EU and EU member states are now in talks with the self-administration and SDF and that positive steps toward finally pressing charges against the ISIS detainees held by the SDF and bringing them to prosecution, either at home or in Rojava, may seriously begin.
About the author:
Anne Speckhard, Ph.D., is Director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) and serves as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. She has interviewed over 700 terrorists, their family members and supporters in various parts of the world including in Western Europe, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In the past three years, she and ICSVE staff have been collecting interviews (n=220 and counting) with ISIS defectors, returnees and prisoners as well as al Shabaab cadres (n=16 and counting) and their family members (n=25) as well as ideologues (n=2), studying their trajectories into and out of terrorism, their experiences inside ISIS (and al Shabaab), as well as developing the Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narrative Project materials from these interviews. She has also been training key stakeholders in law enforcement, intelligence, educators, and other countering violent extremism professionals on the use of counter-narrative messaging materials produced by ICSVE both locally and internationally as well as studying the use of children as violent actors by groups such as ISIS and consulting on how to rehabilitate them. In 2007, she was responsible for designing the psychological and Islamic challenge aspects of the Detainee Rehabilitation Program in Iraq to be applied to 20,000 + detainees and 800 juveniles. She is a sought after counterterrorism experts and has consulted to NATO, OSCE, foreign governments and to the U.S. Senate & House, Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, Health & Human Services, CIA and FBI and CNN, BBC, NPR, Fox News, MSNBC, CTV, and in Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post, London Times and many other publications. She regularly speaks and publishes on the topics of the psychology of radicalization and terrorism and is the author of several books, including Talking to Terrorists, Bride of ISIS, Undercover Jihadi and ISIS Defectors: Inside Stories of the Terrorist Caliphate. Her publications are found here: https://georgetown.academia.edu/AnneSpeckhardWebsite: and on the ICSVE website http://www.icsve.org
Reference for this article: Speckhard, Anne (March 2, 2020). Leaked Document Reveals EU in Talks with Syrian Democratic Forces About the Fate of EU ISIS Detainees. Homeland Security Today