THE HAGUE (AFP) – Nearly 200 people who joined the jihad in Syria and Iraq as well as at least 175 children have ties to the Netherlands and are still in the strife-torn countries, mostly with Islamic State, Dutch authorities said Tuesday.
“More than half of the minors are younger than four years, with at least two-thirds having been born on the battlefront,” the Dutch intelligence and security agency AIVD said in its 2017 annual report.
Of around 280 people who have left the Netherlands since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011 to join jihadist groups, about 185 were still in the region, said the AIVD, also warning that an increasing number of them were coming back home.
“We are expecting more returnees, mainly women and children, now that ISIS has lost almost all of its territory,” the Dutch agency said.
“The returnees form a serious threat because they were in the area for a long time. Most likely they took part in, or witnessed serious acts of violence, including the children,” the AIVD said, believing they had become “ideologically more hardened.”
Around 50 people have returned from jihadist-held areas in Syria and Iraq since 2011, a third of them women, the agency said recently.
The Netherlands has so far been spared the wave of attacks by Islamist jihadists which has rocked its neighbors in recent years, including Belgium, Britain and France.
Dutch security forces however have thwarted four planned terror attacks in the Netherlands since 2011, the AIVD said in January.
In its latest 21-page report, the AIVD warned Tuesday of increased left- and right-wing extremism.
Far-right extremists were mainly driven by issues such as immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments, and have often spurred a counter growth on the extreme left, the AIVD said.
“For instance, at a demonstration by the extreme right against asylum seekers, without a doubt there will be a non-permitted counter-demonstration by the left, where there will also be left-wing extremists,” the AIVD said.
“Confrontations between right and left-wing extremists are becoming increasingly grim,” it added.