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Jihadists Head Home

Thousands of Westerners Joined ISIS. Should They Be Allowed to Return?

Women at an IDP camp in northeastern Syria, April 2019 Ali Hashisho / REUTERS

When Westerners arrived in the caliphate, they would burn their passports, ceremonially rejecting their national identity, and brag of the act on Twitter. Now that the Islamic State, or ISIS, has lost its last stretches of land in Iraq and Syria, hundreds of these Westerners and their children are stuck in camps and prisons in northern Syria and Iraq, often hoping to return to their home countries. Their governments, however, don’t want to take the jihadists back—and are resorting to dubious measures to keep them out.

Take the case of Shamima Begum. In 2015, at the age of 15, Begum and two school friends, both also teenagers, ran away from home in east London and flew to Istanbul. From there, they took a bus to the Syrian border, eventually reaching Raqqa, where they joined ISIS. At the time, the girls epitomized the phenomenon of “jihadi brides:” vulnerable young women groomed

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