Asean member states are preparing to tackle during a summit next week a most urgent security risk that in Europe is already causing a serious ethical dilemma for its governments.
Thousands of surviving jihadists who have fought and lost the war in Iraq and Syria, along with their families, have started going back home, and are now regarded as security threats to their countries. Authorities are worried that from among them would come rabid crusaders who could carry out lone-wolf attacks, if not regroup and launch new attempts to set up caliphates elsewhere to prove their jihadist cause is alive.
Governments are in a quandary over what to do with them. The fear of taking back extremists is understandable as that could bring imminent danger right to their doorstep. Yet they could not simply turn their backs on their nationals and the fate of their children and widows, especially those who profess to have had a change of heart .
The issues on both sides of the policy dilemma with which governments are grappling truly present strong arguments that could tear apart one’s moral disposition.
A US-based NGO, The Soufan Center, has reported that about a third of the 5,000 EU jihadists who fought in Iraq and Syria have returned home. Some are expected to have remained committed to violent jihad and will soon find a way to continue the fight, it said.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom have been handling the problem on a case-by-case basis. Britain’s goal is to give the returning extremists due process in court to either throw them in jail or put them under surveillance to keep the country safe. But some authorities, according to an Agence France-Presse report, think they are legitimate targets and the only way to neutralize them is to kill them. In Germany, jihadists’ children indoctrinated in the war zones are considered dangerous.
The Philippines has just quelled the most intense Muslim separatist rebellion in recent history with the liberation of Marawi from the siege launched five months ago by the IS-linked Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups.
The government has not made any statement on how it would handle the threat brought back home by the Filipino extremist fighters who may have survived the war in Mosul and Raqqa.
But lest it be too late again, Philippine government security forces must not let their guard down in monitoring any remaining militant movements around Marawi and the whole island of Mindanao even as the country gets busy with the current preparations for the 31st Asean Summit in Manila next week.
Nothing could be smarter for the Philippines as the incumbent head of the Asean bloc than to ensure 100 percent security for the delegates that include 21 world leaders who are expected to arrive in Manila for the summit, as well as the rest of the archipelago of more than 7,000 islands while the talks are underway.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano recognized the terror attacks in New York and elsewhere abroad as an indication that the threat remains real and alive.
Rightly so, as Defense department spokesman Arsenio Andolong voiced concern over the possibility of lone-wolf attacks in the country after Marawi, and as Australia alerted its nationals about the risk of traveling to Manila.
Cayetano made a timely call for stronger international efforts against terrorism as he announced it would be among the issues discussed in the Asean summit and related meetings between November 10 and 14.
Still, the region’s leaders and all Asean allies must deal with the humanitarian and tactical issue of totally crushing the seeds of terrorist rebellion, while discerning the innocence of the young souls trapped in their parents’ war and saving them from being raised as a new generation of jihadists.
Finding the wisdom to craft that policy on what to do with the returning terrorist remnants and their families is of utmost importance for the Asean leaders to seek during this summit. Otherwise, an unclear policy could hang like Damocles’ sword over our heads ready to fall on us at our most unguarded moment.