Interview with David Otto, by journalist by Ludovica Iaccino
Hundreds of British fighters who fled Islamic State (ISIS) strongholds in Iraq and Syria now face three options if they want to continue their militancy, an anti-terrorism expert has told Newsweek.
When ISIS emerged in 2014, it swept across Iraq and Syria and seized numerous territories and key cities. In its pursuit to expand its dominion, the group called on fellow Muslim men and women around the world to join their fight, leading to thousands of “foreign fighters” travelling to the Middle East and living inside the captured towns and cities under its administration.
Now that the group is losing territories and fighters due to multinational offensives in Syria and Iraq, militants are fleeing broth countries.
An estimated 800 British people traveled to territories controlled by ISIS. Of these, 130 are believed to have been killed. Some 300 are believed to be hiding in Turkey now, with Western intelligence agencies warning they might plan terror attacks throughout Europe.
“Jihadists don’t just leave Jihad behind just because their Caliphate has collapsed. Displaced fighters can’t just disappear, they have to seek for an alternative platform,” counter-terrorism expert David Otto said.
“Fleeing jihadists go where they can easily blend, hence Britons will go to Turkey, Africans to Libya and so on. It’s the displacement effect.”
Otto believes that British militants hiding in Turkey face different options.
“They can either remain in Turkey and wait for another ‘call of duty’, or use Turkey as a planning and preparation platform for further attacks in the nearest future,” he explained.
A third option would be for the militants to return to their homeland.
Around half of the British fighters who joined ISIS have already returned to the U.K., sparking a heated debate on how the government should deal with returnees.
Some have suggested they should be reintegrated to society and de-radicalizedthrough counselling. Others have claimed fighters represent a threat to U.K. society and should be killed before they reach British soil.
A government strategy part of the so-called Operation Constrain—which aims to root out terrorism and tackle radicalization—will offer terror suspects and returning fighters “council houses, psychological support and help to find a job.”
Details of the strategy emerged earlier this year, after Max Hill, QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said “naive” and “disillusioned” returnees should be reintegrated in case they do not face prosecution.
However, Foreign Office minister Rory Stewart said those who left Britain to fight with ISIS pose a threat to the U.K. and should be killed.
“They might transit to the U.K. with forged documents, remain dormant for some time and then strike when least expected,” Otto explained.
“What is clear is that battle-hardened jihadists do not just quit without a physical defeat, incarceration and de-radicalization programs. One way or the other, the ideology and the man must witness defeat. Without this, the dream of an idealistic Caliphate will remain a focus for jihadists groups like ISIS,” Otto concluded
David Otto Institutional Representative of SECINDEF (Security Intelligence and Defense) Israel-USA International Consulting Counterterrorism in the United Kingdom and collaborating analyst of OCATRY (Observatory against the Terrorist Threat and the Jihadist Radicalization) David Otto is the Director of TGS Intelligence Consultants Ltd and the Preventing Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Programme – Step In Step Out (SISO) – based in the United Kingdom. He is also Senior Counter Terrorism Advisor for Global Risk International.