The true cost of terrorism might be death – for the terrorists

On my first trip to Singapore many years ago I was struck by signs placed throughout the airport that warned of severe penalties for drug trafficking.  If my memory isn’t failing me, I seem to recall that those signs didn’t mince words.  They made it quite clear that the penalty for peddling in illegal drugs was – death.  You cannot get more definitive or serious than that.

Maybe we should put similar posters up in Canadian – and all Western for that matter – airports saying: “If you think it is a good idea to leave your country and travel to certain countries to join a terrorist group please be advised that there are jurisdictions where the penalty for doing so is – death.  Have a good flight”.

The idea for this blog came to me as I read that an Iraqi court issued a death by hanging sentence to a German woman who not only left Europe to join Islamic State but married off her two daughters to IS terrorists.  That same court had earlier sentenced a Russian IS terrorist to the same penalty.  If the sentences are carried out we will have two fewer terrorists to worry about.

I am not trying to be callous and, for the record, I do not personally support the death penalty.  But I am also not so arrogant as to demand that a sovereign state change its laws to assuage my opposition to capital punishment.  As far as I am concerned, if you go to Iraq, become a terrorist, participate in and/or support the actions of that terrorist group, get caught, go to trial, and are found guilty you are subject to whatever penalty Iraqi justice calls for.  In the case of terrorism that penalty in Iraq is death apparently.

I find it interesting that I read nothing of efforts by the German government to repatriate the German woman (maybe the are indeed trying to do so: it is just I could not find any news to that effect).  Other countries, including my own, are immersed in this debate.  While I would wager that the majority of Canadians would rather not see their government expend time and resources on bringing back (sometimes recalcitrant?) terrorists, others argue that the state does indeed have that obligation (I fall squarely in the camp of the majority on this issue by the way).

To any prospective jihadi reading this blog, listen up!  If you elect to leave Canada and sign up with a terrorist group you had better accept that you will likely not get a ‘do over’.  Your fate will range from death on the battlefield (air strike, drone, armed conflict, suicide bombing) to capture, trial and possible execution or a very, very long stay in a prison of questionable comfort level.  In the best case scenario, you may win the lottery and get expelled by the locals (I would not put my hopes is this, however) only to be arrested (or at least investigated) on your return to Canada.  Even if then you don’t get put on trial, your future prospects (education, job, relationships) are anything but assured.  You will receive the equivalent of the old ‘scarlet letter’ punishment for adultery:  i.e. you will be labelled as ‘that terrorist guy’ who rejected his family, friends and country to join IS.  Imagine putting that on your resume.

I firmly believe in identifying those at risk of radicalisation to violence as soon as possible in the hopes of diverting them from the path of disaster and pouring in the required resources to do so.  I nevertheless also firmly believe in punishing those who ignore or dismiss these efforts and decide to embrace terrorism anyway to the fullest extent of the law.  And if the law in some parts of the world calls for capital punishment so be it.

We must impress on those considering a career in violent extremism that decisions of this nature have serious, and at times irrevocable, consequences.  As the old saying goes “if you do the crime you will do the time”.  Can we please stop seeing terrorists as victims and call them what they are – authors of their own fate?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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