Individual people from American or European countries have joined ISIS over time.

Such a person may decide to returns home.

  • If it was never recognized that the person had the intention to join ISIS, he/she is basically just a person returning from traveling.

  • If the person is known to be an ISIS fighter, he will be detained at arrival and probably indicted for some felony.

  • If it is known the person was member of ISIS, but nothing else is known, and there is no indication that he was an active fighter: What happens in this case?

There is a good example for the third case happening in Germany. A teenage girl without any relation to Islam was in a state of searching for meaning of live as part of normal being a teenager. She was around 15 years old, and somehow, more or less randomly, came in contact with radical Islam culture.

She then decided to travel to join ISIS in some region where it was active.

She basically became housewife, in a relationship with an active ISIS fighter.

After some time, she realized that it all was not a good idea. Around 2 years after joining ISIS, she decided to return to her family. She began to search for somebody to smuggle her home, and succeeded after multiple attempts. There were no reasons to think she had any relations to ISIS - only her father and the smuggler helping her knew about it.

I'm wondering how a member of ISIS returning from any relation with ISIS would be treated when it becomes known, and it is plausible he/she did not engage in any kind of illegal activity during the time. She was still teenager when returning home, but that is not central to my question, except that it probably helped to reduce suspicions.

A documentary about the example case in Germany, in English language: My Daughter and the Caliphate | DW Documentary

2 Answers 2


They committed the crime of providing material support for terrorism

Specifically, 18 U.S. Code 2339A and 2339B. "Material support" is defined so broadly that it captures maintaining the household of an Islamic State fighter.

Most countries have similar laws and they are all equally problematical as to their legitimacy. Basically, such people are a giant pain in the ass to their governments and so, their governments are generally content to let them rot in Syrian refugee camps so they don't have to deal with them.

  • I think in Germany she is still free I think. At least she was for a while. It is publicly known, and her neighbors were not particularly fond of it. She fully expects to get sentenced to prison, has accepted it emotionally and is not hiding. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 5:26
  • As I said, governments would prefer not to have to deal with these people - so they don't. Of course, as a child, proprietorial discretion may have been less politically motivated.
    – Dale M
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 5:27
  • Yes, I think it makes perfect sense. At least in this case. In doubt, her father would be witness as he closely followed the whole thing. Not before she left, though. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 5:31
  • It is a crime to leave Canada for the purpose of joining ISIS, but (unlike US) Canada does not claim extraterritorial jurisdiction for acts committed abroad. Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 19:04

In Germany, you would be a “member of a criminal organisation” and that’s enough for jail. You can’t join ISIS and not commit a crime - joining is the first crime.

  • While this is probably true, it would sanction a thought crime, in a way. The person could be not aware that the partner is member of ISIS, and it is perfectly reasonable to hide that. In this case, the difference would be only in the thoughts of the person, and possibly not be expressed in any activity at all. Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 7:29
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    @VolkerSiegel It is not exactly true. The comment refers to s 129(1) of the Criminal Code, specifically the "or participates in such a group as a member" alternative. However, this requires "that the person committing the offence, for a certain period of time and carried by the mutual, consensual will, integrates into the organisation, subjects himself to its will, and carries out an active activity (aktive Tätigkeit) to further its goals" (BGH NJW 2010, 3042 [24]; most recently confirmed in BGH NJW 2019, 2552 [22]; my translation). So, no, this is not a "thought crime".
    – johnl
    Commented Oct 21, 2019 at 12:28

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