Parents of Dutch jihadists take action against state

Muslim group says Netherlands failed to prevent teenage children joining Islamic State

A group of Muslim parents is to take legal action against the Dutch state for failing to prevent their teenage children from travelling to fight with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, where some of them were killed.

It is the first legal case of its kind in the Netherlands and, if successful, could lead to similar claims in other European countries.

The group says that in all the cases it represents, the authorities were warned in advance about the youngsters’ intentions but failed to take action, either by taking them into preventive custody or even by confiscating their passports.

At least 10 Dutch jihadists are known to have been killed this year, bringing the total to 30, and there is growing anger in the Netherlands about the lack of an overarching national policy either to prevent them leaving or to assess their mental state when they return.


Instead, decisions appear to be taken locally. There are many stories of parents approaching the police only to be told that they must first contact social services at their local town halls – or approaching the municipal authorities only to be sent to the police.

The only way to establish who is responsible for the teenagers' safety after their parents have taken the appropriate steps is to test through the courts which government services are failing in their duty of care, says Michael Ruperti, a lawyer for the group, based mainly in Amsterdam and Leiden.

The lack of a coherent strategy is underlined, the parents say, by the fact that since the Syrian conflict started in 2011, there have also been many cases in which international arrest warrants issued by the Dutch police have led to runaway jihadists being arrested on the Turkish-Syrian border.

Mohammad Nidalha from Leiden, one of the founders of the group, says he told the police as soon as he learned that his 20-year-old son planned to travel to Syria to join IS but, he claims, they took no action to stop him.

“The lawsuit will not bring my son back, but I am doing this to prevent other families having the same problems and going through the same heartache.”

Other parents, however, say they do not trust the authorities, according to the Dutch-Moroccan association SMN, which recently set up a helpline and website for parents seeking under-the-radar advice on how to deal with children they fear are becoming radicalised.

"Very often parents suffer in silence, but they need someone to listen to them," says SMN spokesman Farid Azarkan. "The parents who approach us have very little trust in the authorities, they are often unsure about their own role in educating their children and they are afraid of the stigma that may attach to their families if one of their children is identified as radicalised."

For that reason, he adds – to reassure potential callers worried that their children might, for example, be taken into care – the helpline and website have been set up without any government subvention.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court