- - Wednesday, November 15, 2017


War is hell, especially for the losers. Rather than winding up in a World War II-type concentration camp, defeated terrorists of ISIS are merely gathering up their wounded egos and bloody heads and heading home. Mom might be overjoyed to welcome the return of little Jihadi Joey, but the neighbors, not so much. When reauthorizing the nation’s surveillance code, Congress must make sure that in protecting the privacy of the law-abiding they don’t overlook the dangers posed by returning fighters who have lost the battle abroad but intend to continue the fight at home.

The collapse of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq under the relentless assault of the U.S.-led coalition has sent surviving fighters fleeing the Middle East toward their nations of origin. From an ISIS army of 40,000, about 5,600 have straggled home to 33 nations, according to the Soufan Center, a Washington intelligence think tank. Though it’s their stay-at-home, self-radicalized comrades who have committed most of terror in Europe and the United States, foreign fighters with deadly battlefield skills will pose a continuing threat.

Of 129 known Americans who evaded authorities to join ISIS — the FBI puts the number closer to 300 — only 7 are thought to be back in the United States, presumably leaving others in the shadows. Another 135 have been charged with offenses related to their support of ISIS, with 77 convictions.

European nations are generally greeting returning fighters with arrest, prosecution and surveillance, but other strategies are on the table. In Britain, about 350 of 850 known British ISIS soldiers have returned. The British Home Office is considering whether to give jihadis free public housing and priority for job training and job placement, reports the London Daily Telegraph. Some Britons recoil at the idea of a terrorist rewards program. “If someone is inclined to be an extremist,” says one former government counterterrorism adviser, “you are not going to bribe them into not being a terrorist.”

France has a less charitable strategy for dealing with the 1,700 Frenchmen who traveled to the Middle East to join the Islamist army: kill them on the battlefield before they have a chance to bring their extremism home. “What we want is to go to the end of this combat and of course if jihadists die in the fighting, then I’d say it’s for the best,” says Defense Minister Florence Parly. French special operations forces are said to be roaming the ruins of former ISIS strongholds in Syria in order to terminate them with extreme prejudice.

Britain, Australia, Israel and Bahrain are among the nations that enacted laws making it easier to strip citizenship from ISIS jihadists. Similar measures have failed, more’s the pity, in the U.S. Congress. Congress faces a Dec. 31 deadline for reauthorization of the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has frayed the Constitution by subjecting Americans to warrantless searches of their personal communication.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, and Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat, have introduced the USA Liberty Act to impose limits on domestic spying. Such a law would enable the intelligence community to continue collecting telephone and email data, but would require a probable-cause warrant from the foreign-intelligence surveillance court when investigating American citizens. As foreign fighters return home with their training for malicious behavior and unknown intentions, it’s essential to put in balance the nation’s needs for both security and privacy.

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