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Not all foreign fighters in Syria are the same, pleads father whose sons are waging jihad

November 11th, 2014
10:16 AM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

The British government should differentiate between the different types of Western men and women who decide to take up arms and join extremist groups, the father of two British jihadists killed fighting in Syria and terror expert Peter Neumann told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

Abubaker Deghayes, whose two teenage sons were killed while fighting for the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, wants “to try to talk to our government and tell them that don't put everybody in one basket” as “there are different types of people who go there.”

A third son of his is still fighting in Syria.

Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, agreed with Deghayes.

He said there are three groups of foreign fighters, which he calls “the three Ds.”

“Some people are truly dangerous and we're seeing some of them on social media, who are already talking about attacking Western countries.”

"However, there are also people who are disturbed, who are traumatized by the conflict, who are a risk to society but not necessarily ideologically motivated.”

And in Neumann’s third group “are people who are disillusioned, who did not like what they saw in Syria, who want to come back and who want to reintegrate and rehabilitate,” he explained, adding that he thinks “it's really important that government manages to distinguish between those three groups.”

Last month, Britain’s Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said that “over 500 British nationals travelled to join the conflict” in Syria and Iraq.

Deghayses’ third son in Syria says he will stay there until he is “martyred.” He told Amanpour he thinks his sons’ decision to join jihad is “troubling” but “understandable” at the same time.

“Because [of] the atrocities. There are people dying there. They're not items. You see babies buried. You see airplanes targeting civilians, people crying, people dying, bloodshed. I mean, the reaction of human beings has always been to save other fellow human beings,” he said.

Amanpour asked why they didn’t just join the Free Syrian Army, now seen as the moderate opposition force, instead of a radical group.

Deghayes said that he “can assume from going there and working in the refugee camp” that they saw Jabhat al-Nusra as a strong group with a relatively good reputation.

“Everybody [in the refugee camp] had words of praise for Jabhat al-Nusra, that they are dedicated. They don't involve themselves inside things. They don't loot. They don't commit oppression against people or steal their things.”

“And they are strong and solid. And they see each other with the Free Syrian Army, it - some elements of it, unfortunately, they have a bad reputation, by looting, leaving their injured on the battlefield.”

“So when you go into war, I assume, and you're going to face an enemy, you would think you want the strongest around you, who will stick to you until the last minute.”

Do Western fighters deserve being reintegrated into society if they decide to come back?

“I think that in Britain and also in other countries there are, for example, intervention programs with very experienced people, who can assess, based on very long interviews, whether a person is genuine and really wants to reintegrate,” Neumann said.

“I'm not saying that reintegration is an amnesty. We do not know what goes on in that person's head. But when he comes back, there needs to be a process for established whether that person needs to be arrested, whether that person needs to get psychological treatment or whether that person can be reintegrated into society,” he added.

Deghayes also asked the UK government to put away “its prejudice and do not think of Muslim youth as a threat.”

“I mean, now we're people who died from here, 400,000 Muslims died in this war fighting the British. I mean, why are we always giving this gloom picture that Muslims would be a threat if they learned how to defend themselves?”

“Maybe one day they will fight for this country and we will need them to fight for us if we are under attack. You never know. Why don't you think in a positive way?”

Click above to watch the full interview.

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iraq • Latest Episode • Syria
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