Germany’s Conundrum: What to Do with Islamic State Returnees?

Dozens of Germans who fought for Islamic State are in prison in northern Syria. Among them are alleged murderers and torturers, but also women and children. The German government lacks a coherent plan for dealing with them. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

Sipa Press / action press

“Do you know what the best thing about my jihad for Allah was?” Bajram G., an Islamist from near Bonn who is classified as a potential threat by the German authorities, asked an acquaintance of his over Facebook. The best thing, he wrote, answering his own question, was shooting three enemies to death, all of whom were “infidels.” Then he took one of his victim’s phones, he wrote, called a woman in the contact list and told her he was standing with his boot on the victim’s head. The woman, he claimed, started screaming.

It’s not clear whether these atrocities ever really took place, or whether G. was simply trying to sound important. What is clear, though, is that the Islamist has since dramatically changed his tone.

In a letter to his family in Germany, he wrote: “I miss you very much. Maybe you’ve heard I’ve been captured?” The letter was delivered via the Red Cross from a detention camp near the northern Syrian town of Qamishli. In another letter, he wrote: “Mama, please let me know how you’re all doing and whether you know how to get me out of here. What do the authorities say? I just want to come home. I want to get out of here.”

Bajram G., 25, is a German citizen and the son of immigrants from Kosovo. He was only 20-years-old and still in school when he disappeared from Germany and, according to investigators, joined Islamic State (IS). He is one of thousands of Islamists who left Europe to join the fight, a large number of whom are now sitting in prisons run by the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia YPG. These fighters of the “Caliphate” have now become prisoners of war.

The German government must now grapple with several difficult questions: How should it deal with these prisoners of war? Must someone like Bajram G. be repatriated? What would be done with him once he returned? So far, Berlin has yet to come up with any concrete answers.


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