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By Sam Weber and Laura Fong
Mohamed Nidalha hasn’t seen his son Reda in more than two years.
Born and raised in Leiden in the Netherlands, Nidalha said his son fell under the influence of extremists while staying
with an uncle in Brussels and fled to Syria to join the Islamic State.
Nidalha says he contacted Dutch security officials once he learned about his son’s plans but was told there was nothing
that could be done, because Reda was over 18.
“Even when I told them my son is planning on joining a terrorist organization they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you,’” Nidalha
Reda is one of an estimated 220 Dutch residents who have traveled to Iraq or Syria to join terrorist groups like the Islamic
State according to The Soufan Group.
Together, an estimated 5,000 people have traveled to Iraq and Syria from the European Union to become foreign fighters.
Terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have brought renewed attention to the threat of radicalized foreign fighters returning
home. The violence has also prompted many countries, including the Netherlands, to focus on efforts to prevent the radicalization
of youths in the first place.
In Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands, religious leaders, community groups and the police have all been
working to combat the threat of homegrown radicalism.
But predicting who may become radicalized, and stopping a committed person from leaving for Syria or Iraq, is difficult.
“If they really want to go and if they’re in a circle with like-minded people, there’s not a lot you can do about it,”
said Marion van San, a researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
Read the full transcript below:
HARI SREENIVASAN: Mohamed Nidalha hasn’t seen his son Reda in more than two years. He scrolls through old pictures
on his iPad, from when he was 19 years old to when he was five years old.
MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) Reda grew up like any other child. He had lots of friends, just a regular
kid like any other.
HARI SREENIVASAN: The family emigrated from Morocco, but Reda was born and raised in Leiden, near Rotterdam in southern
HARI SREENIVASAN: Nidalha says his son Reda went to Syria to join the Muslim militant group ISIS.
MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) In the weeks leading up to his departure for Syria, he fooled and misled
HARI SREENIVASAN: The family is Muslim, but Nidhala says, they are not very religious. He believes when Reda visited
an uncle in Belgium for a few months in 2014, Reda fell under the sway of ISIS recruiters. After that, he traveled to Turkey,
the gateway into Syria.
MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) Reda called his sister and told her “I love you, I love dad, I love
mom, but I’m going to Syria to help children and help the women being raped.”
HARI SREENIVASAN: As soon as he learned of his son’s plan to go to Syria, Nidalha says he contacted Dutch security
MOHAMED NIDALHA: (translated from Dutch) Everyone told me, “We can’t help you, because your son is already
18 years old. He can travel to wherever he wants.” Even when I told them my son is planning to join a terrorist organization
and is going to fight in Syria. Still they said, “Sorry, we can’t help you.”
HARI SREENIVASAN: Reda is one of an estimated
220 Dutch residents who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join ISIS, according to The Soufan Group, which estimates that 5,000 foreign fighters from western
Europe have made the trip.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Marion van San is a researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. She has interviewed dozens
of Dutch families whose children have traveled to Syria and Iraq, including Mohamed Nidalha and even his son, Reda via Facebook.
She says radicalization is hard to predict or stop.
MARION VAN SAN: If they really want to go, and if they’re in a circle with like-minded people, there’s not a lot
you can do about it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Van San says the youth most vulnerable to radical recruitment are from troubled families or broken
homes looking for guidance on how to live.
MARION VAN SAN: They’re all youngsters with very, very strong ideals. They’re worried about the world. And they
want to have like a guideline — how shall I live? And they find that in Islam.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Imam Azzedine Karrat leads Rotterdam’s Essalam mosque, the biggest in the Netherlands. He says
parents worried about their children becoming radicalized often come to him first. The imam says the key is to engage with
these youths, not push them away.
AZZEDINE KARRAT: (translated from Dutch) I believe that young people that radicalize at one point did start their
search with good intentions. Things can of course go awry, but it’s up to us to listen to them, not give them the idea
that we’re judging them and present them with alternatives and other information.
HARI SREENIVASAN: If he fails to talk someone out of going to Syria, Karrat may call the police. He says he’s competing
against the Internet for hearts and minds.
AZZEDINE KARRAT: (translated from Dutch) Radicalization doesn’t happen in mosques. On the contrary, one of
the steps in the radicalization process is distancing themselves from mosques.
HARI SREENIVASAN: To reach as many people as possible, Karrat posts his sermons on YouTube and is active on Twitter
and Facebook. But he’s also aware of his limitations.
AZZEDINE KARRAT: (translated from Dutch) Imams and mosques are part of the solution, but it’s also dependent
on the collaboration between different actors in society, organizations and people in the community, the municipality, the
parents, the youngsters themselves, the police, together they are part of the solution.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Marianne Vorthoven runs SPIOR, an Islamic organization that works with imams, teachers, social
workers, and community leaders to talk to parents and youth about radicalism.
MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: There is no easy answer to this.
HARI SREENIVASAN: SPIOR has organized more than 40 meetings in Rotterdam during past year and Vorthoven says the
very act of acknowledging radicalization within Muslim communities is novel.
MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: There’s a lot of silence, a lot of taboo around these issues. And especially in some groups
it’s also, “No, but it’s not about us. It has nothing to do with Islam, so we don’t need to talk about it.” Whether you like
it or not, these atrocities are being done in the name of Islam, so also in society how people perceive Islam and Muslims
is affected by it.
HARI SREENIVASAN: In SPIOR’s meetings, organizers try to boost resistance to radicalism – what they call “resilience”
— by exposing the myths in recruiting messages and addressing factors that may push some to become jihadists.
MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: Some people, and especially Muslim youth, do not feel a sense of belonging. They do not feel
accepted in society, many of them. Very often implicitly or explicitly, the message is that you cannot be a good Dutch citizen
and a Muslim at the same time.
HARI SREENIVASAN: This struggle with identity is familiar to 30-year-old Mahmoud Tighadouini. His family is originally
from Morocco and he was brought up a Muslim, born and raised in Amsterdam.
MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: I was like searching for my own identity. I was thinking, in the Netherlands, they call me ‘the
Moroccan,’ and in Morocco they call me ‘the Dutchman.’ So I didn’t know what I was.”
HARI SREENIVASAN: After 9/11 and the start of the war in Iraq in 2003, Tighadouni met a group of young men online
who introduced him to a radical Muslim ideology.
MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: I was thinking, “The West are the enemies.” And they say, “They are wrong,
we are good.” They are black or we are white. I needed the clearness, I needed the structure, I needed the people who
say to me how to go, how to live.
HARI SREENIVASAN: After several years of chatting online, the idea of fighting American troops abroad came up.
MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: We were talking about jihad, about do you want to fight in Afghanistan? Do you want to
fight in Iraq? And I said, “Yes, of course, I want to help my Muslim brothers and sisters. They kill them for no reason.”
I was almost going, because I had my suitcase already done. My mom, she prevented it, gladly.
HARI SREENIVASAN: His mother, Fatima, had noticed a change in Mahmoud.
FATIMA BEN AYAD: (Translated from Arabic) I have to know what he does. So I found his passport in the drawer in
his room and I took it and I hid it. I was scared, my son shouldn’t be going to somewhere that’s not good.
HARI SREENIVASAN: She also called her local community police officer to intervene. And the officer confronted Tighadouni
in his house.
MAHMOUD TIGHADOUNI: He said, “Listen, Mahmoud, this is the time you need to stop with this.” And I was very upset
on the same time, but I was also listening to him, because he was very clear. That’s the moment when I started not to be normal,
but when I started to think, to de-radicalize.
HARI SREENIVASAN: There are more than 3,400 community police officers, known in Dutch as a “wijkagents,”
across the Netherlands. Each is assigned to one neighborhood to get to know it very well.
JAN POTS: Hallo!
HARI SREENIVASAN: Mickael Scharloo and Jan Pots are two of these community police officers in south Rotterdam, one
of the poorest areas of the city and one of the most diverse, with 120 nationalities and a large Muslim population.
JAN POTS: All is goot? Yea..
HARI SREENIVASAN: Pots and Scharloo tackle small issues like traffic and parking violations, but they are also on
the front lines of preventing violent radicalization. Pots describes fielding similar calls to the one Tighadouni’s mother
JAN POTS: (Translated from Dutch) We had a conversation with the parents and with the boy, who wanted to travel
to Syria. And we set up all the help we could to prevent that — we took his passport, and made contact with other partners
that we work with.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Scharloo says officers like them are effective only by having strong personal relationships with
the communities they serve.
MICKAEL SCHARLOO: If people want to tell me something, they have to know me. Because they have to trust me with
certain material and certain information.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Although efforts to prevent radicalization have been underway in Rotterdam for years, some don’t
believe they go far enough.
Rotterdam City Council member Tanya Hoogwerf is skeptical that intervention by police, religious leaders, and community
groups is sufficient to combat the growing threat of homegrown radicalism.
She advocates a harder law enforcement approach.
TANYA HOOGWERF: It’s a real threat, and it is a security problem, and it’s not something you’re going to solve with
a teacher at school. It’s not something you’re going to solve with a community police service. It’s something that you’re
only going to solve and tackle with a hard security impregnated approach.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Hoogwerf would like to see Dutch citizens who join ISIS or other militant groups in Syria or Iraq
banned from re-entering the country, or at a minimum detained.
TANYA HOOGWERF: If we are going to spend money, don’t spend money on some small organizations that pretend they
can de-radicalize. No, spend it on serious intelligence solutions. Put more emphasis on taking people that are potentially
a threat away from the streets of Rotterdam and put them in detention.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Marianne Vorthoven of SPIOR admits it’s difficult to quantify success in the work it is doing
to prevent radicalization.
MARIANNE VORTHOVEN: We cannot say for a fact that otherwise this young man or young woman would have gone to Syria,
but because we’ve had this meeting with him or her, now she is not going. But what we see is that people open up about a very
sensitive and complicated subject.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Mohamed Nidalha has been vocal about sharing his story in the Netherlands in the hope that it
will raise awareness among other parents. He believes that anyone could be susceptible to radicalization.
MOHAMED NIDHALA: (Translated from Dutch) I gave my son the freedom to choose, I didn’t raise him religiously,
and still I couldn’t prevent this.
The post How
the Dutch are working to stop radicalization of Muslim youth appeared first on PBS