Germany’s domestic intelligence chief wants the government to review laws restricting the surveillance of minors to guard against the children of extremist fighters returning to the country as “sleeper agents” who could carry out attacks.
Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV agency, told Reuters that security officials were preparing for the return of ISIS militants to Germany along with potentially “brainwashed” children, although no big wave appeared imminent.
Nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Germany to join up with the militants. As the group’s presence in the Middle East crumbles, some are returning with family members, the news agency said.
Only a small number of the 290 toddlers and children who left Germany or were born in Syria and Iraq had returned thus far, Maassen said. Many were likely to still be in the region, or perhaps moving to areas such as Afghanistan, where ISIS remains strong.
He said Germany should review laws restricting surveillance of minors under the age of 14 to prepare for the increased risk of attacks by children as young as nine who grew up in ISIS schools.
“We see that children who grew up with ISIS were brainwashed in the schools and the kindergartens" of the terrorist group, he said. “They were confronted early with the ISIS ideology ... learned to fight, and were in some cases forced to participate in the abuse of prisoners, or even the killing of prisoners.”
He said security officials believed such children could later carry out violent attacks in Germany.
“We have to consider that these children could be living time bombs,” he said. “There is a danger that these children come back brainwashed with a mission to carry out attacks.”
Maassen’s comments were the first specific estimate of the number of children affected, following his initial warning in October that such children could pose a threat after being indoctrinated in battlefield areas.