Is killing British ISIS fighters the ‘only option’?
As the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group nears collapse, questions remain over the fate of the group’s UK-born fighters. Some 130 Britons who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS have already been killed, according to MI5.
In line with the UK government's policy, conservative Foreign Office Minister Rory Stewart said this week that the “only way” to deal with British IS fighters is “in almost every case” to kill them. Stewart said British IS fighters pose a “serious danger to us” and have relinquished any ties to the UK.
Stewart’s call for what amounts to extrajudicial killings has sparked controversy. Sally Lane, whose son Jack Letts journeyed to Syria to join IS in 2014, called the comments “absolutely unbelievable.”
The mother and her husband are currently on a week-long hunger strike to raise awareness about their son’s situation. Dubbed in the press ‘Jihadi Jack,’ Letts is thought be languishing in a prison in north western Syria after being was captured by an anti-IS YPG unit in May.
“A lot of people went for naive reasons. Jack was 18 when he went, he was a stupid kid but he’s been labelled a murderous jihadi,” his mother told the Times.
It is not yet clear whether Letts will be returned to the UK to face trial.
The White Widow
For those who do not fall into the hands of anti-IS groups, their fate is, chillingly, a little more certain.
IS-recruiter Sally-Anne Jones, the so-called ‘White Widow,’ was killed in a US airstrike in July alongside her 12-year-old son Jojo as she fled Raqqa. The airstrike could be deemed unlawful and breaking international humanitarian law, as Jones was not participating in an active combat role for IS, nor engaged in hostilities when she was targeted.
Upon the news of Jones’ death, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said those who choose to fight for IS become a “legitimate target” and “run the risk every hour of every day of being on the wrong end of an RAF or a United States missile.”
It is unclear whether Jones’ role as an IS-recruiter counts as a combat role.
The head of the government’s independent reviewer of terrorist legislation, Max Hill QC, has recommended that those Britons who were “brainwashed” or joined IS with a sense of “naivety” could be spared criminal prosecution.
“Really we should be looking at reintegration and moving away from any notion that we are going to lose a generation from this,” said Hill.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he would like to see British IS recruits arrested and tried in British courts. The position is endorsed by the Stop the War Coalition, whose convener, Lindsey German, said the UK’s “strike to kill policy” lacks “justification” and would only increase the risk of terrorism.