Responses to Returning and Repatriating ISIS Affiliates
More than a year after the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) lost the last vestiges of its territorial “caliphate,” thousands of the group’s foreign supporters remain in the Levant, many of them in detention facilities operated by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Others have already returned to their countries of origin in Europe and the United States. In making decisions about how to respond to returning foreign fighters—including the decision to repatriate their citizens from detention in situ—Western countries enter a minefield fraught with serious legal, political, and security concerns.
On October 8, 2020, the Program on Extremism at George Washington University hosted a virtual panel to address the current state of Western countries’ responses to returning and repatriated foreign fighters. The panelists discussed the political environment surrounding returning and repatriated ISIS supporters in several countries, the legal and evidentiary implications of prosecuting ISIS supporters in courts of law, and Salafi-jihadist groups’ strategic viewpoint on their affiliates returning to their home countries in the West. The discussion, moderated by Program on Extremism Senior Research Fellow Bennett Clifford, included insights from:
- Elena Pokalova, Department Chair of the International Security Studies Department and Associate Professor at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA) at the National Defense University (NDU)
- Tanya Mehra, Senior Project Leader/Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague and Fellow at the Program on Extremism
- Marta Furlan, PhD candidate in International Relations in the Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews