(Daily Mail)- Islamic State could use women and children returning from Iraq and Syria to launch suicide bombings and ‘lone wolf’ attacks in Britain, the Home Secretary will be warned today.
EU officials fear families who travelled from Europe to the conflict zone could come back en masse as the terror group loses its territory in the region.
European countries that have seen their citizens go to become foreign fighters will be told to prepare for their possible return at a meeting in Brussels this morning.
Ministers will discuss how women and children who travelled with their husbands and fathers to Iraq and Syria could be used for deadly attacks across the continent.
An EU official said there was a ‘particular problem’ with children who have been ‘militarised’ abroad as Islamic State ‘changes its tactics from the battlefield to lone wolf attacks’.
‘On the basis we are winning militarily against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, we assume that at least some of the fighters will return to the EU member states from which they came,’ he said.
‘There is a question of how you deal with not the fighters themselves, but the women and children who are there with them.
‘Some of the women will have gone voluntarily, some not, and some of the children will have grown up almost entirely in that environment.’
Home Secretary Amber Rudd will today attend a meeting organised by the Belgian government for the 13 European countries that have been most affected by the foreign fighters phenomenon.
An estimated 4,000 EU citizens have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic State with nearly three quarters of these coming from Belgium, France, Germany and the UK.
Around 700 British citizens have gone to fight in the region, with more than half thought to have already returned and approximately 70 dead.
Terrorism experts believe that moves to take back the Islamic State strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria could lead to an exodus of fighters.
The EU official said: ‘As yet we’re not seeing mass returns, but it would be foolish not to prepare for such as a thing as Daesh continues to lose their territory.
‘We presume some of these people will find their way back, however they do that.
‘Whether that is buying a ticket and getting on a flight and not getting picked up [by authorities] at an airport.
‘Or whether they come illegally and undercover. We have to look at how to deal with them.
‘It’s really question of, if and when people choose to come back what are the approaches of countries going to be to that.’
Britain has introduced a law making it illegal to travel for terrorism purposes, but the official added: ‘It can be quite difficult to know how to deal with returning foreign fighters.
‘Obviously prosecution is one avenue, but can you get enough evidence together for a successful prosecution?
‘Or do you take an opposite approach and try a rehabilitative de-radicalisation approach?’
In a report called Children of Islamic State, the London-based counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam earlier this year warned that Islamic State was indoctrinating children and training them for jihad.
It said the terror group regards children as better and more lethal fighters than adults as they are a ‘blank slates’ that can be taught extreme values from birth.
Techniques to normalise brutality include encouraging children to play football with decapitated heads.
Researchers said that boys learn from a rigid Islamic State curriculum, churning out memorised verses of the Quran and attending ‘Jihadist training’, which involves shooting, martial arts and weaponry.
Human Rights Watch researchers have also reported how Islamic State has replaced schools in Iraq and Syria with places to teach boys how to fight and make explosives used in suicide attacks.
Isil has lost half its territory in Iraq and its caliphate is shrinking around its twin strongholds of Mosul and Raqqa.
Rob Wainwright, director of the European Union’s police agency Europol, in September said: ‘I think it will be a generation-long struggle that we face to absorb the return of thousands of foreign fighters, particularly to Western Europe.’
He said their exposure to extreme violence ‘on top of their radicalized state makes them highly dangerous individuals’.
Britain’s European Commissioner Sir Julian King, who is responsible for EU security, last month said there was a ‘serious threat’ of returning jihadis pushed out by the offensive to oust Islamic State from Mosul.
He said: ‘Re-taking the Islamic State stronghold in northern Iraq can lead to a scenario in which violent militants would return to Europe.
‘This is a very serious threat and we must be prepared to face it.’