Episode 46: Children of the Caliphate - Young ISIS Returnees and the Reintegration Challenge

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In recent years, the world has been repeatedly shocked by the gruesome images and actions of ISIS, in particular the footage and stories of children as young as eight executing people. Children play an important role in the organization: the children of the caliphate are seen as "the future of ISIS," and therefore education and propaganda are an important form of indoctrination. ISIS uses minors for suicide attacks, executions and fighting. Research has shown that IS propaganda between in 2015 and 2016 included 89 eulogies of children and youthsa number that steadily increased each monthly, showing that ISIS has gradually opted for this tactic. The role of minors and their future causes international concern for a broad range of reasons. Growing up and potentially fighting in armed conflict will traumatize a large number of these children. Also, what will happen with these children if the Caliphate collapses? Human Rights Watch expressed concerns about the birth registrations that will most likely not be recognized by the international community – potentially leaving children stateless.

This week on Intelligence. Unclassified., Analysis Bureau Chief Dean Baratta had an enlightening call with researcher Liesbeth van der Heide from the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT), where they talk about her recent paper, Children of the Caliphate. They will explore the findings she and her co-author provide on young or juvenile ISIS returnees, assessing what sets juvenile returnees apart from adult returnees or the broader population of young criminals, and scoping the potential venues and challenges in their rehabilitation and reintegration. 




Liesbeth van der Heide is a researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA), Leiden University since 2011. She also works as a Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) where she coordinates ICCT's activities in the field of (counter-) terrorism in prison, a project that focuses on prisons in North Africa and South East Asia and includes implementing threat and risk assessment measures to identify and assess violent extremism. Her fields of interest are: terrorism and stability in the Sahel (Mali); the overlap and fusion of (non)violent jihadist, separatist and rebel movements; radicalisation and reintegration; and effective counter-terrorism. She currently coordinates a two-year research project for the National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism and Security (NCTV) regarding the effectiveness of the reintegration of terrorists in the Netherlands. She teaches Master-level courses on Security and Intelligence and Security and the Rule of Law. Previously she managed several research projects, including research for the Dutch National Police on lone actor terrorism; research for the General Intelligence and Security Service in the Netherlands regarding a fear-management based approach to counter-terrorism; a research project for the Ministry of Security and Justice on the integrity-crime nexus. In 2013 she was a Research Fellow at the Onati International Institute for the Sociology of Law. She is a member of the Dutch Flemish Network for Radicalization and Terrorism Research.


Jip Geenen is a Project Officer at ICCT for the Rehabilitation and Reintegration projects. She is also a researcher at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs. Her areas of interest include terrorism trials and the rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders. Jip has a background in Political Science (BSc, University of Amsterdam and San Francisco State University) and International Relations (MSc, University of Amsterdam). Prior to her Master Degree, Jip worked for ICCT as a Program Assistant.


The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT) is an independent think and do tank providing multidisciplinary policy advice and practical, solution-oriented implementation support on prevention and the rule of law, two vital pillars of effective counter-terrorism.

ICCT’s work focuses on themes at the intersection of countering violent extremism and criminal justice sector responses, as well as human rights related aspects of counter-terrorism. The major project areas concern countering violent extremism, rule of law, foreign fighters, country and regional analysis, rehabilitation, civil society engagement and victims’ voices.