Foreigners who return home after fighting for the Islamic State (ISIS) often get away with murder due to justice systems that haven’t caught up to a new reality.
More than 30,000 foreign fighters have left their home countries to fight for ISIS. Many of them decide to return home at some point, despite the knowledge that they will almost certainly be detained and put on trial.
A German court sentenced a 25-year-old ISIS deserter to four and a half years in prison Friday. The man, identified only as Nils D., fled Germany and served as a “secret police” guard at ISIS’s torture prisons.
Nils D. confessed to signing up to carry out a suicide attack in Turkey or Europe, but the court rejected this was the reason for his return to Germany last year.
Officials admitted Nils D. continues to be a devout Muslim, and that he may still have ties to ISIS. The short sentence is just one of many across Europe where a terrorist can’t be tied to any major crimes.
About 800 Germans — a majority of whom are between the ages of 22 and 25 — have left the country to fight for terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq, according to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). More than 135 cases of Jihadists returning home went to court in 2015.
A major issue for prosecutors is tying individuals to specific crimes they committed abroad. One defendant told his girlfriend and fellow jail inmates that he had killed at least 16 people in Syria. The prosecutor in the case could not prove the identities of the victims, or the circumstances around the murders, and the charges against the man were dropped.
Germany’s Federal Prosecutor is now pushing for stricter legislation to deter people from joining terrorist organizations, and bring returnees to justice. The simple solution, prosectors argue, is to enhance the minimum penalty of associating with terrorism. Most European countries currently offer rehabilitation treatment when they have no evidence to support further crimes.
Politicians in the Swedish city of Orebro rolled out a proposal for a program last year to help returnees reintegrate to society. The program was designed to be a “guide in the job search and offer help and support.” It was met with a lot of opposition for the way it’s designed to prioritize terrorists over law abiding citizens who need the same services.
Belgium is the country with the highest rate of homegrown jihadis. The Belgians have been criticsized for allowing terrorist organizations to operate, but it is one of few that actually have a record of tying their homegrown terrorist to longer prison sentences. A landmark case in 2014 against a national movement called “Sharia4Belgium” sentenced 44 people to prison on terrorist charges, with sentences ranging from three to 15 years.
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