Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

'Jihadi Jack' is symbolic of an abdication of responsibility

Countries must take back their homegrown terrorists and ensure extremists are brought to justice

Jack Letts in a picture he posted on Facebook, near the Tabqa Dam in Syria. Facebook
Jack Letts in a picture he posted on Facebook, near the Tabqa Dam in Syria. Facebook

It is a fundamental principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the UK is a signatory, that citizenship is a right, not a privilege to be withdrawn on a whim, and that no individual should be rendered stateless. Yet Britain has once again decided to strip a citizen of their passport. Jack Letts, known by the dubious moniker “Jihadi Jack”, was born to a Canadian father and a British mother. He has dual citizenship and it this loophole that the British government has seized upon. Letts left the UK for Syria in 2014 at the age of 19 to join ISIS’s so-called caliphate. For the past two years he has been held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, together with hundreds of other foreign fighters. Many of their native countries are unwilling to take them back, and the SDF, which oversees their detention, has warned it does not have the means to hold them indefinitely. Stripping Letts of his citizenship is a shameful abdication of duty. Ensuring he does not return to Britain does not make him any less dangerous or less of a threat to security; it simply makes him someone else’s problem.

To be clear: this paper has no sympathy for those who looted, pillaged, raped and murdered their way through Iraq and Syria. If Letts is found guilty of any war crimes, he should face the full force of the law and a befitting punishment. Britain’s absolution of its duties neither ensures he is brought to justice, nor guarantees that he will not be a danger to society again. As his own father said yesterday on national television, the UK was “passing on a problem” and “shirking its responsibility”.

This is not the first time the UK has revoked citizenship on similar grounds. In February Shamima Begum, one of three 15 year old girls who fled London to marry ISIS fighters, was refused the right to return. Sajid Javid, who was then home secretary, was accused of using her case to solicit support for the beleaguered Conservative party and it could be posited that new home secretary Priti Patel is doing the same.

The UK is not alone in passing the buck in an attempt to curry favour with increasingly right-wing electorates. Other nations like France have instead decided to have its citizens tried in Iraq, where they could face the death penalty, while Germany and Denmark, are also doing all they can to avoid their responsibilities.

Terrorism is an international problem, and one that can be managed only if each nation takes responsibility for its own homegrown extremists. Letts was born, raised, educated and, ultimately, radicalised in the UK. When he travelled to Syria, he did so on a British passport. He is British, in every legal and moral sense of the word, and that makes him Britain’s responsibility – a responsibility his government is now shirking disgracefully.

Updated: August 20, 2019 03:38 AM

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