Turkey’s reintegration of radicalised Islamist returnees insufficient - analysts

Turkey’s attempt to reintegrate citizens who left to join jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq back into society are inadequate and do not stem the risk of re-radicalisation, the International Crisis Group’s Berkay Mandiraci and Nigar Göksel said in War on the Rocks on Monday.

Turkey relies on “resource-intensive surveillance and short-term detention” to disrupt the recruitment efforts of Islamist militant groups, such as the Islamic State (ISIS), and has been slower than other countries to develop social programmes to help citizens reacclimatise to society, Mandiraci and Göksel said.

The proximity of Turkey to Syria and Iraq, two countries with high jihadist activity, and its use as a transit route for weapons, supplies, and people across the border into Syria makes reintegration “critical for national and regional security”, they said.

“Ankara should explore whether and which soft measures can complement its hard security approach to ensure returnees turn their backs on jihadist militancy and safely reintegrate,” Mandiraci and Göksel said.

“Security responses have developed far more than social measures in dealing with people who have taken the route of violent extremism.”

Inaction by Turkish social ministries gave the impression that many returnees from ISIS, which at one point controlled swathes of Syria and Iraq in a so-called “caliphate”, were not ideologically committed and had no difficulty returning to Turkish society, they said.

The analysts said efforts by Turkey’s state religious authority, the Diyanet to “de-radicalise” former members of jihadist groups such as ISIS and former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in Turkish prisons had not been successful.

“While the Diyanet says they are best placed to change the minds of people who reference the Koran to justify violence, they have little success to point to in this regard,” Mandiraci and Göksel said. Prisoners view the 600 imams on duty at rehabilitation centres as an extension of the Turkish government, which they deeply distrust, they said.

“The initiatives of the Diyanet have focused on broad information-sharing activities and promotion of conservative family values that they argue shield against extremism. But the Diyanet has not devised programmes tailored to the reintegration of returnees.”

The failure of some prisons to separate inmates with clashing Islamist ideologies, some of whom grew more hardline as a result, was another example of Turkey’s ineffective reintegration policies, Mandiraci and Göksel said.