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Germany has introduced new legislation aimed to strip dual citizens of their German citizenship, should they fight for a terror organization abroad. German Law is currently permitted to strip the citizenship of dual citizens fighting for foreign national forces, without express permission from the German authorities under the Nationality Act. The new legislation expands the current law to include those fighting for a terrorist militia, which is defined as an organization that breaches international law aiming to create a new state. The new legislation will only apply to individuals over eighteen, those that carry dual citizenship, and will take part in future battles involving terrorist organizations. However, this will not apply retroactively, so not to include terror fighters who have already returned to Germany. The central aim of the proposed legislation is to target the Islamic State (IS) fighters imprisoned or still fighting in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, German lawmakers hope the proposed legislation will have preventative measures discouraging individuals from joining terrorist organizations in the future. This legislation comes amid many European countries struggling with how to handle returning IS fighters.
More than 1,000 Germans left to fight for IS in 2013, with a third returning to Germany already, a third believed to be killed in action, and the remaining still in the Middle East. The new legislation comes after reform promises from German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and her ruling coalition. The right-wing political party, Alternative for Germany, claims the legislation comes far too late as most IS fighters have now returned to Germany. Similarly to Germany, other European countries saw outflows of individuals leaving for the Middle East to fight for IS in 2013, and are now struggling to handle those seeking to return. France, for example, will only take back IS fighters on a case by case basis rather than allowing individuals to return en masse. In the U.K., Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, stated that he will prevent the return of British nationals who have supported terrorist organizations abroad. Recently, the U.K. revoked the citizenship of an IS bride preventing her from returning to the U.K. The challenge of dealing with returning fighters is further compounded by U.S. pressure from the Trump administration urging European countries to repatriate their citizens and prosecute them. Additionally, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces fighting IS, has urged Western countries to take back their citizens as their prisons, which hold dual citizens, are now facing capacity constraints.
Returning IS fighters pose a serious domestic security threat in addition to an ethical dilemma for European countries. European countries fear that allowing experienced IS fighters to return home increases the risk of highly skilled terror attacks being executed. However, revoking citizenship from dual citizens may create a sentiment of second class citizens who feel disenfranchised and removed from their nationality. Based on the new legislation proposed by Germany and recent examples out of the U.K., it appears that countries will favour revoking citizenship to prevent IS fighters from returning home. As right-wing parties gain popularity and populist sentiments grow across Europe, most countries will likely opt to protect domestic security from threats that can be kept abroad.