There is some disagreement over how to handle Western Moslems who go to fight for ISIL (and other Islamic terrorist organizations) when they return home. Many politicians, journalists and pundits are calling for immediate arrest and prosecution for those who return, or simply cancelling their passports if they don’t (or even if they want to.) An example of this was a British proposal to cancel the passports of British citizens who were found to have gone off and joined some Islamic terrorist organization overseas. By cancelling their passports the British Islamic terrorists would not be able to return to Britain or travel internationally until they got new, and false, documents. But U.S. intel officials pointed out that it had been their experience that many of those returning Islamic terrorists were not pleased with their experience and when interviewed many admitted that they were no longer into it. These men would willingly, sometimes eagerly, give up all sorts of useful information. Even those who were not discouraged by the experience, and perhaps even trying to hide the fact that they were still into the whole Islamic terror thing, would provide some useful information. These interviews enabled intel officials to flesh out their records of individuals participating in specific terrorist organizations and better determine who should be ignored, who can developed into a double agent, who should just be watched carefully or who must be arrested on the spot. By cancelling the passports you force all these guys to go underground, where they might do anything, or nothing and whatever they did would be more difficult to keep track of.
It wasn’t just the American intel experts. Quietly and without publicity many members of the international police and intelligence communities agreed that a strategy that involved letting everyone come home and sorting out those who did and going after those who don’t come back was the best way to go. All this is a lot of work, but the intel experts point out that it is already known that many of those returning Islamic terrorists are disillusioned and some have been willing to talk frankly about their experiences. A few, as is now widely known, agreed to serve as spies inside terrorist organizations.
What has not been discussed much is the fact that these returning terrorists have proved to be a valuable source of information about Islamic terrorists and one of the few ways to get spies inside these very secretive organizations. This is not unique to Moslems from the West (many of them born in Islamic countries or who have parents or grandparents who were), but also to those who grew up in Moslem countries. As Islamic terrorists became aware of all this they became less trusting of their Moslem brothers from the West. That’s something of a bonus.
Some Islamic nations, like Saudi Arabia make a big deal of their rehabilitation and debriefing programs. The media tends to concentrate on the small number of “rehabilitated” terrorists who later return to religious violence. What is missed here is the fact that all those reformed Islamic terrorists have given the Saudis a steady flow of insider information and made it impossible for Islamic terrorists to carry out attacks inside Saudi Arabia. This was noted by Western counter-terrorism officials and discussions with the Saudis revealed the details of their program.
The Saudis have had less success in halting the radicalization of young Saudis. This continuous radicalization has been going on since the birth of Islam 1,400 years and the solution involves changing some fundamental cultural and religious customs that have proven very resistant to change. For the moment the intel people do point out that the radicalization process often reverses once the new jihadi fighter confronts the death and destruction he has chosen to get behind. That reaction provides the best source of inside information on Islamic terror groups. As the old saying goes, “if all you’ve got is lemons, then make lemonade.”