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What Is Happening to Former Jihadists When They Return to Britain?

​The mother of a returned British jihadist who fought for the Islamic State warns that other former jihadists in Britain are "walking time bombs" because of the lack of government support.

av Ryan Fletcher
2015 01 20, 10:00am

Still via VICE News

The mother of a returned British jihadist who fought for the Islamic State has warned that the government is leaving the country open to attack because of holes in its rehabilitation programmes.

De-radicalisation frameworks have been put in place by the Home Office, however laws making public bodies and terror suspects comply with the procedures have yet to be passed.

Linda, who wanted to be known only by her first name, told the BBC that her son, James, has been given no support to reintegrate since his return from a four month combat stint in Syria last February – despite repeated requests.

She says James has renounced terrorism and poses no threat to the public, but is suffering from acute mental health problems following his experiences and is occasionally violent. After not being in contact for months, James got in touch with his mother by telephone, saying that he wanted to come back to Britain but didn't know how. Linda travelled to the Turkish town of Adana to fetch James, who had become disillusioned with IS, and guided him back across the border from Syria using her iPhone. She now warns that other former jihadists in Britain are "walking time bombs" because of the lack of government support.

She told the BBC: "There's no point in us as a society denying the presence of all these people that are coming back because they are coming back and ignoring the problem isn't going to make it any better. I feel if these people are just left unattended, not helped, not supported, the potential to society could be devastating. They could become a walking time bomb."

It is estimated that around 300 jihadists have returned to Britain since the start of the war in Syria. However, according to figures from the Crown Prosecution Service, only six have been convicted of terrorism.

Where there is insufficient evidence to charge terror suspects Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims) are used to control their movements and activities. Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill – which has three objectives: to identify individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism; to assess the nature and extent of that risk; to develop the most appropriate support for the individuals concerned – that is currently going through Parliament, anyone under a Tpim could be forced to attend de-radicalisation programmes. This measure would not apply to returnees from Iraq and Syria not under a Tpim.

In prisons, The Al Furqan programme uses Imams to challenge extremist views through Islamic teaching. Similar initiatives are used to reach those outside the prison system, such as the Healthy Identities Intervention, which involves intensive work with a psychologist and tackles extremists on an individual basis, with meetings taking place two or three times a week for a couple of hours. It's an intensive, inward-looking programme that is, like The Al Furquan, voluntary.

A still from the ISIS recruitment video aimed at Western muslims

As Professor Andrew Silke, Head of Criminology and Director of Terrorism Studies at the University of East London said in September, it's "a deep process which looks at how they came to be radicalised." He felt it was "good" but had doubts if it would "work on someone who is totally indoctrinated". He also pointed out that a third of prisoners referred to the Healthy Identities Programme have refused to take part.

The government's main de-radicalisation programme, Channel, is there for people who are not under serious scrutiny from the security services. It was rolled out in April 2012 in England and Wales and has had over 2000 referrals during that time. The Home Office says that "hundreds of people have been offered support" through the programme.

It is estimated that around 300 jihadists have returned to Britain since the start of the war in Syria. However, according to figures from the Crown Prosecution Service, only six have been convicted of terrorism.

Channel works like an extremism watch dog made up of local authority panels consisting of representatives from the NHS, schools, social services, the probation and prison services, the police and community leaders with the aim of providing support to any individual who is at risk of being drawn – or re-drawn – into violent extremism. Any and all of the organisations involved can provide services to those in danger of being radicalised. These include NHS services for those with mental health issues like PTSD.

The Channel process aims to provide support to individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism. It draws on existing collaboration between local authorities, the police, statutory partners (such as the education sector, social services, children's and youth services and offender management services) and the local community and has three objectives: to identify individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism; to assess the nature and extent of that risk; to develop the most appropriate support for the individuals concerned.

During panel meetings, individuals of concern are discussed following tip-offs from organisations working within communities or members of the public. The structure is similar to the way individuals at risk from involvement in drugs, knife and gun crime are monitored.

However, Channel is yet to be made a legal requirement and there are concerns that coverage is patchy in places. The Home Office says that, once the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is passed, Channel will be signed into law and delivered consistently. Until then, a Home Office spokesperson told me that "all decisions on returnees from Syria or Iraq are taken on a case-by-case basis.

Some of these people may have been exposed to traumatic experiences and others may be radicalised or vulnerable to radicalisation. For some, prosecution for terrorist offences is the right course of action. For others, it may be that support from, for example, mental health or social services might be more appropriate."

@RyansFletchers

More on terrorism:

Can Hotlines Stop Muslims Becoming Radicalised?

The Future of Terrorism According to VICE

The Islamic State