The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has warned that returning “brainwashed” Islamic State women and children pose a “massive danger” to the country.
German government figures show that more than 960 people left Germany for Iraq and Syria until the end of November 2017 to fight for the Islamic State, of which about a third are believed to have returned to Germany. Another 150 likely died in combat, according to official data.
“There are children who have undergone brainwashing in the ISIS areas and are radicalised to a great extent,” said Hans-Georg Maassen.
Germany’s top spy Maassen says the danger posed by these returning jihadi women and children could mean that laws restricting surveillance of minors under the age of 14 must be changed soon.
The increased risk could mean terror attacks carried out by children as young as nine, he said. “We see that children who grew up with Islamic State were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens of the IS.
“They were confronted early with the IS ideology … learned to fight, and were in some cases forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners, or even the killing of prisoners.”
Maassen, the head of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, said that some individuals were being surveilled already. “We are already observing the return of some women and adolescents.
“This is a problem for us because these children and adolescents in particular can be a danger. We also know that there are women one can rightfully call Jihadists after living for years in IS areas where they identified strongly with IS ideology.
“We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs,” he said.
“There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks.”
Three of five Islamist attacks in Germany in 2016 were carried out by minors, while a 12-year-old boy was detained after planning to bomb a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen.
“The Islamic State uses headhunters who search the Internet for children who can be targeted and attempt to radicalize these children or recruit these children for terrorist attacks,” he told Reuters.
“As far as the fighters are concerned, we do not yet see a strong return movement,” said Maassen. “We are assuming that those from the West who are still struggling at the moment will want to be there until the end – and only then a movement to return to Europe will start.”
The intelligence chief said that defeat of ISIS in the Middle East would by no means signal its end. “The geographical demise of IS in Syria and Iraq does not lead to the disappearance of the terrorist militia.
“IS is now represented in some other states and is quite strong there. In addition, the group is networking enormously in virtual space. There’s a global cyber-caliphate.
“It sends the message to its followers: ‘You don’t necessarily have to come to Syria and Iraq to fight. You can also lead jihad where you are.’
“Many who sat on packed suitcases and wanted to travel to jihad have therefore remained in their homeland.” Maassen said it is this group that will commit terrorist acts in European cities.
Even if young people make up only a small part of the persons saved by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, they could be more dangerous – because they are more impressionable than older ones.
Overall, according to the BfV, the Islamist terrorist potential in Germany has risen to 1 870.