I lost my brother to a terrorist bombing – but I know deserting British dual national Isis recruits isn’t right


In recent interventions, the war has been won but we have failed to secure enduring peace. Insurgents have been overpowered or forced to disperse, only to then regroup and return with a vengeance. In modern day non-state conflict, it is no longer enough to defeat the enemy. We need to face the fact that the character of conflict has changed and international law has not kept pace with this changing landscape.

In Syria’s case, Isis’s “caliphate” has been removed but the enemy, the ideology and the threat are still very much in existence, albeit largely now in prison camps – and the country is calling out for help. 

Tens of thousands of Isis fighters captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are now interned in enormous, poorly managed, temporary detention facilities. The SDF has neither the ability nor the desire to process such numbers – thousands of which come from overseas.

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Syrian Kurds have pleaded with the international community for assistance. Their inability to manage a situation of this scale and severity makes it ever easier for detainees to bribe their way out or escape. The notorious al-Hawl camp in northwest Syria is a stark illustration of the concerns to which this gives rise. 

Originally designed to support refugees, the camp’s population is now 75,000, of which around 30,000 are captured Isis fighters – and their families. The west must wake up to the fact that Isis is not defeated, it is regrouping, and it is active, as illustrated as recently as last week by the devastating bomb causing more than 200 casualties at a Kabul wedding. 

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Failure to deal with the thousands of displaced families, now living behind barbed wire, is not only concerning from a welfare perspective but also provides a ready recruitment ground for Isis.

Our western mindset must change. In this situation there is no adversary ready to unconditionally surrender. We are not facing a uniform army where the Geneva Conventions apply, but well-organised insurgents that have every intent on pursuing their ideological goals. Many of these fighters have been indoctrinated with a false promise of reward in paradise if they give their lives for their cause.

The answer is not Guantanamo Bay. At the time of 9/11, the UK listed 25 international terrorist groups. Today that number has more than doubled. The radicalisation and mobilisation of potential fighters from across the globe will not disappear any time soon. Britain rightly stepped forward as part of the international military coalition to fight Isis in 2014. We have led efforts to thwart its financing, remove its online efforts to recruit, and worked with allies to promote a better understanding of Islam. But if we allow extremist threats room to rejuvenate, than all our efforts will have been in vain.

We should not forget why we stepped forward to defeat Isis in the first place. It was not just the morally right thing to do – Britain has both the means and desire to help shape our world for the better, beyond our shores. The government also has a duty to keep Britain and its citizens safe, both at home and overseas. It is in our interests to prevent extremism from incubating and gaining a foothold anywhere in the world. 

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My brother was killed in the 2002 Bali bombing, targeted for no other reason than simply being a westerner. Terror attacks continue to occur across the globe, and indeed here in the UK. Tearing up UK passports of dual national foreign fighters may briefly make us feel better and corral popular opinion, but thinking more strategically, it barely scratches the surface of the problem. We cannot isolate ourselves from international extremism. Hundreds of foreign fighters were indoctrinated whilst still living in their respective countries, including Austria, Sweden, France, Germany, Australia, US and here in the UK. We are in denial if we think we can shunt responsibility in the hope it is someone else’s problem to solve.

I’m not advocating a free pass. Britain should use the forthcoming September UN General Assembly meeting to lead proposals on modernising international law and give much needed clarity on who is responsible for effectively bringing extremist fighters, domestic and foreign, to justice – in the right way. It’s the only way to deny the rejuvenation of ideological causes and reduce the threat of jihadi terrorism both at home and abroad.

Tobias Ellwood is Conservative MP for Bournemouth East

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