In normal times, the reported return of 400 Isis fighters to Britain would be the biggest story out there. But with policymakers preoccupied by Brexit, and the press examining the sexual culture of Westminster, this news has not received the attention it deserves.
The return of these fighters has profound implications. The security services are struggling to keep up with all the possible terrorists at large. Notably, Andrew Parker, the director-general of MI5, has warned that plots are being devised at the fastest rate he can remember in his 30-year career. Though he stressed that the security services have prevented seven attacks since March, he also said they cannot foil every effort.
This is simply down to capacity. A frequent feature of recent terror attacks has been that the perpetrator had appeared on the security services’ radar, but that they hadn’t been under close surveillance because they weren’t an immediate threat. The security services have the ability to monitor only about 3,000 people at any moment. So there are around 20,000 people who have previously been investigated but are not currently being watched. Add a returning hard core of several hundred — who will undoubtedly radicalise others — and you can see how this problem becomes even more unmanageable.
The obvious answer to this question is for the state to do everything it can to locate the returnees and lock them up. Islamic State is a murderous death cult. Why should people who chose to leave this country to work with such a murderous group be treated with anything but the utmost severity?
But strangely, some are making a more lenient case. Max Hill QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, recently argued that it was right not to prosecute all of those who had joined Isis.