US official: Let nationals who travelled to ISIS territories come home

Director of Office of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) at US Department of State Bureau of Counterterrorism, Irfan Saeed, is lobbying Government to allow citizens who travelled to ISIS conflict zones in the Middle East, in particular women and children, to return home if they desire. Once here, however, he said Government should give them support so they can go on to re-establish their lives where possible.

He said programmes and initiatives need to be put in place to ensure women and children in such circumstances are allowed to return home and taken care of when they arrive. Noting that some of the women and children are not in control of their circumstances in these conflict zones, Saeed said they have often experienced a lot of trauma and stress staying in these places.

“There has to be a policy to allow those citizens of those countries to return home to try and seek the help that they need or if they participated in any terrorist attacks to be prosecuted for it. They cannot just be left to stay in the conflict zones. Those governments should allow their citizens to return,” Saeed, a Pakistani, told Guardian Media during an interview at the Public Affairs Units of the US Embassy in St Clair yesterday.

“As we were looking at a lot of those countries that were producing foreign fighters, it struck us as very odd that here in Trinidad and Tobago the numbers were quite high. I believe at one point it was the highest number per capita than any country in the Western Hemisphere.”

Asked if the US had any information that T&T women and children were being held in prisons in Iraq and Syria for their affiliation with ISIS, Saeed said he did not have specific numbers.

“But what I can tell you is part of our policy is to work with a lot of these global partners around the world to ensure that they know how important it is to take back their citizens.”

He said those who travelled to the Middle East to join extremist groups do so as a result of a number of factors. While it was difficult to pinpoint how many Trinidadians have become foreign terrorist fighters abroad, Saeed said through social media they were able to get some information.

“But the numbers from my understanding, in the US, is a little bit lower. But even then, the numbers that we know about T&T were higher than the United States, two hundred I believe is what I have heard the last time. And that is almost double the amount we’ve had from the US in the last so many years.”

Saeed admitted this number surprised him.

“We are talking about a place like T&T, off the coast of Venezuela…a beautiful island, small country, small population, a tourist destination, yet you have individuals radicalised to violence, getting on planes and flying across the world to conflict zones.”

Of the 200 T&T citizens identified as having joined ISIS, Saeed could not say how many are women and children.

“I don’t have the numbers. But when you talk about the numbers of individuals going over, you have to draw a distinction. Some of them were women who were going over to fight.”

He admitted some of the young girls and women who go ISIS territories become part of a larger framework, noting it was a worldwide problem.

“You had a lot of instances of young girls….as young as 13, 14, 15 we have seen in the US, we have seen it in Europe…we have seen it in London in particular, where they would go over to be part of this global mindset,” Saeed said.

“Then you also had women who were going over simply as family members and they were bringing young children or they were having children over there. They have actually created one of the biggest concerns for us now because we have seen a large number of the women ….those families trying to return to their home countries bringing either young children or children who have spent the last five years in a terrorist zone or children who were born there.”

While he said they may never be able to accurately pinpoint what leads to such action, Saeed said high crime in a country can force someone to flee, while attractive salaries offered by the jihadist groups and opportunities to live in palaces were also used to lure nationals to ISIS during recruiting.

“We know of some payments (salaries) that were made but those stopped quickly. Money dried up very quickly, promises were not held and people started to return. It turned out to be false narratives.”

Saeed identified Shane Crawford as one Trinidadian who joined ISIS and had enticed other citizens on social media to become part of the terror group. Crawford is believed to have been killed in fighting with ISIS forces last year.

Asked if the US was concerned about T&T’s 2018 Carnival terror threat, Saeed confirmed they were.

“But our sole focus is not on T&T. My office does a lot of work globally. We work in places that are vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. And we know that ISIS knows where those vulnerable populations are.

“Once they identify T&T as a vulnerable population…a target audience if you will….a lot of their narratives shifted that way,” he said.

Source: www.guardian.co.tt (Shaliza Hassanali)

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