Foreign Policy Digital

Teenage Terrorists Aren’t Lost Forever

Even ISIS recruits can be reintegrated into society, if the approach is right.

When 17-year-old Ibrahim returned to Denmark from Syria in 2013, his stepfather sent him straight to the police. Ibrahim had disappeared six months earlier—just before his exams. He claims he spent the time as an aid worker in northern Syria. But his story is patchy: Ibrahim says that he cannot even remember the name of the charity he worked for.

The police were not entirely convinced that Ibrahim was telling the truth. They couldn’t prosecute him: There was no evidence of involvement in a terrorist group. But they didn’t want to leave him to his own devices. Instead, they assigned Ibrahim to a counter-extremism program—like thousands of other young Europeans. Most are believed by the authorities to be at risk of radicalization. But some did more than just boast online or browse dubious websites; as Ibrahim probably did, they fought—or attempted to fight—for the Islamic State.

As the final remnants of the Islamic State crumble, just what happens earlier this month to release more than 800 captured European Islamic State fighters if their nations were unwilling to bring them home to stand trial. If able to regroup in Syria, these fighters could pose a serious security threat in the future.

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