About 500 British citizens have left their country to fight in Syria with ISIS, or Islamic State, the extremist, ultra-violent Islamist terror group. But now a group of the British ISIS fighters, believed to be about 30 in number, say that it was all a big mistake and they want to go home.
But they are worried that if they try to re-enter the United Kingdom, they’ll be arrested as terrorists.
One expert on how young Muslims become radicalized believes that many more than that small group may be looking for a way out of ISIS. Professor Peter Neumann, who has been in contact with the regretful jihadis, says that as many as 20 percent of the young British citizens who have, in effect, defected to ISIS are now having serious second thoughts and want to come home.
The problem, he says, is that the British government has already declared them to be dangerous outlaws.
“The people we have been talking to want to quit but feel trapped because all the Government is talking about is locking them up for 30 years,” said Neumann.
Not all of the British fighters are as hardened as, for example, Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary, the former London rapper who joined ISIS and is widely believed to be the militant who beheaded journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — or at least appeared in the videos depicting their beheadings.
Neumann believes that the reformed militants who return to Britain could help dissuade other young British men from following their own jihadi dreams into the clutches of ISIS.
According to Neumann, many of the disillusioned British ISIS members joined the extremist group believing they would be involved in the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Instead, they mostly find themselves engaged in “gang warfare” against other rebel and Islamist groups, as various rival factions jockey for power within Syria.
“We came to fight the regime and instead we are involved in gang warfare. It’s not what we came for but if we go back we will go to jail,” one expatriate British militant wrote. “Right now we are being forced to fight — what option do we have?”
Shiraz Maher, a colleague of Neumann’s at the Kings College International Center for Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, said that outreach from the homesick jihadis represents “a defining moment for the Government on the issue of British jihadists.”
“We must address the fact that some young men have been caught up in a war not of their choosing and if they are allowed to return, they could become an extremely powerful tool in the fight against the Islamic State,” he said of the disillusioned British ISIS fighters.