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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

How do you win the battle against extremists who foster hatred? 

Slick ISIL propaganda does just not just lure the rootless, it turns the heads of youth, writes Colin Randall

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio pays tribute to the October 31 terror attack victims. Jewel Samad / AFP
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio pays tribute to the October 31 terror attack victims. Jewel Samad / AFP

Nearly three weeks on, the Halloween murders in New York and the end of a major terrorism trial in Paris are hardly forgotten, but the initial deluge of media coverage has slowed to a more orderly flow.

All too soon, further atrocities will give fresh reminders that military defeat of ISIL does not rid the world of the violence it inspires. More actual or would-be perpetrators, and their accomplices, will be brought before courts. But the legacy of both events, in two major cities grievously touched by terrorism, offers valuable aid in the cause of prevention.

In New York, Sayfullo Saipov, a Uzbek beneficiary of America’s Diversity Immigrant Visa Programme, was captured alive. It is preferable, if rarely possible, to detain rather than to kill, since priceless information may be gleaned about contacts and motivation.

As Lisa Monaco, who was homeland security advisor to Barack Obama’s administration, points out on Foreign Policy's website: “Understanding more about how and when he became radicalised is critical to stopping future attacks.”

And in the Voltaire chamber of the Palais de Justice on the banks of the Seine, an elder brother of Mohamed Merah, whose grotesque murders in 2007 – three Jewish children and three French soldiers, including two Muslims, among his victims – started France’s most recent deadly wave of terrorist attacks was jailed for 20 years for terrorist associations.

Abdelkader Merah was cleared of complicity in the murders, a verdict that dismayed victims’ relatives and is being appealed by prosecutors, who wanted a life sentence. Yet whatever further proceedings determine, a court’s refusal to be driven by understandable emotion and convict on questionable grounds is to be applauded.

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The accused had not just his day in court, but five weeks to answer prosecution charges that he was an accessory in his brother’s seven murders.

Afterwards, his own lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, said Abdelkader was “the incarnation of absolute evil”. He was doubtless thinking of past gestures of support for the September 11 attacks in the US and his brother’s actions. But he added that if the court had convicted him of complicity without material proof, terrorism would have won.

Slick ISIL propaganda does just not just lure rootless delinquents; it turns the heads of young people who may otherwise have something to offer.

Teachers, parents, imams and community figures have a duty to ensure impressionable young minds recognise the contrast between the hospital care given to the wounded Saipov and diligent judicial examination of the Merah case with what happened, as one example, to the British aid volunteer Alan Henning in 2014. He went to Syria with Muslim friends to deliver supplies to embattled civilians and was kidnapped by ISIL. His family was told a sharia court had found him “innocent of being a spy and declared no threat”; yet he was beheaded all the same by his hideous captors.

It must be hoped that Saipov and Abdelkader Merah live to see that terrorists fail in their mission to foster hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims. And it is important for the world to see that for all their flaws, security services and justice systems are broadly fit for purpose, fair to all.

Mohamed Merah proclaimed allegiance to Al Qaeda. Now, a brother is rightly demonised for his links to terrorism. A sister previously aroused disgust by expressing pride in what he had done.

But let us never forget how another sibling, Abdelghani, spent the fifth anniversary of the school shooting in March. Exhausted but content, he arrived in Paris after walking the length of France in a courageous personal denunciation of extremism.