A report released Monday called on countries to bring back and rehabilitate children from the so-called Islamic State, warning that otherwise, they could pose a significant future threat.
The London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization said that more than 4,600 foreign minors were affiliated with ISIS, including an estimated 14 Canadian citizens.
But only about a quarter of them had so far returned to their home countries, the think-tank wrote in its report, “From Daesh to Diaspora: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State.”
Only two minors had returned to Canada, it said.
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“Currently, the number of global attacks successfully conducted by returning IS minors is still comparatively low,” the report said. “However, without effective de-radicalization and reintegration initiatives tailored to children and teenagers, indoctrinated and trained minors will continue to pose a significant threat in the future, wherever they end up.”
With many male ISIS foreign fighters dead in Syria and Iraq, how governments respond to children and women indoctrinated by the terrorist group will help determine its future, the study said.
“Women and minors are poised to play a significant role in carrying forward the ideology and legacy of IS after the physical fall of its ‘caliphate’ in late 2017,” according to the report.
In the absence of effective de-radicalization efforts, children and women could keep ISIS alive by recruiting a new generation of terrorists and committing acts of violence, the authors wrote.
But it said those who have left the group could “speak out against IS, its ideology and actions, or challenge positive myths about life under the ‘caliphate,’ and prevent others from supporting IS.”
About 20 per cent of Canadians involved in overseas terrorist groups are women, and some have taken their children with them. A handful of Canadian ISIS fighters have also fathered children in Syria and Iraq, creating a dilemma for the government.
ISIS indoctrinated and trained foreign children, calling the boys “caliphate cubs” and the girls “pearls.” They were featured heavily in propaganda videos, and in some cases were shown executing prisoners.
Since the collapse of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, some have been held at camps but their governments are wary about taking them back, which risks overburdening local authorities, and many remain unaccounted for.
Perhaps most worrisome are those orphaned by the conflict who are stateless and ostracized.
“Without careful intervention and thorough reintegration into society, those bearing the IS label may find such societal stigma becomes the fuel for future radicalization,” the report said.
Women who travelled to the region to join ISIS also pose potential security risks, it said. Cautioning against viewing them all as merely “jihadi brides,” the report noted that some were active in recruiting and fighting.
The report cited the example of a female recruiter from Edmonton who radicalized at least one other woman and facilitated her travel to Syria. Although ISIS no longer controls a “caliphate” governed according to militant extremist ideals, some women “remain committed to carrying forward the ideology of IS, and raising their children to be the next generation of IS,” it said.