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#Kazakhstan welcomes women back from #IslamicState, warily

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Credit Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

The young woman said she thought she was going on vacation in Turkey, but instead found herself in Syria, tricked, she said, by her husband, who joined the Islamic State. She herself, she said, never subscribed to ISIS teaching, writes

But back in Kazakhstan, government psychologists are taking no chances. They have heard that story before. They have enrolled the young woman, Aida Sarina — and scores of others who were once residents of the Islamic State — in a program to treat Islamist extremism.

“They want to know if we are dangerous,” said Ms. Sarina, who is 25 and has a young son.

Unlike virtually every Western country and most of the rest of the world, Kazakhstan is welcoming home women like Sarina — albeit warily and despite the lack of proof that deradicalization programs work — rather than arresting them if they dare show up.

So like a scene from a prosecutor’s daydream, a small hotel in the desert of western Kazakhstan is packed with these women, whom many governments view as terrorist suspects.

CreditTara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

Men are allowed back, too, in Kazakhstan, though they face immediate arrest and the prospect of a 10-year prison term. Only a few have taken up the offer.

At the treatment site, the Rehabilitation Center of Good Intentions, the women are provided nannies to look after their children, fed hot meals and treated by doctors and psychologists, testing the soft-touch approach to people affiliated with a terrorist group.

For Ms. Sarina, it is a far cry from her previous life in a fetid refugee camp in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria, a human refuse heap of thousands of former Islamic State residents despised by most of the world.

Having somebody now ask how she felt was amazing, she said. “It was like your mother forgot to pick you up from kindergarten, but then remembered and came back for you,” she said.

Rather than treating the women as criminals, the professionals at the rehabilitation center encourage the women to talk about their experiences.

“We teach them to listen to the negative feelings inside,” Lyazzat Nadirshina, one psychologist, said of the method. “Why is that negative feeling bubbling up?’” she said she asks her patients. “Most often, it is the feeling of a little girl angry at her mother.”

Set up in January to quickly process scores of women whose radical ideas might only ossify if they were thrown in prison for long spells, the center’s services are not so much for the benefit of the women as the society they will soon rejoin, organizers say.

The Islamic State recruited more than 40,000 foreign fighters and their families from 80 countries over its quick arc from expansion to collapse, from 2014 until this year. American-backed Kurdish militias in Syria still hold at least 13,000 foreign ISIS followers in overflowing camps, including at least 13 Americans.

American diplomats have been pressuring countries to repatriate their citizens, though with not much success.

“Governments are not big fans of experimenting with this group because the risks are too high,” said Liesbeth van der Heide, an expert on Islamic radicalization at the International Center for Counter-Terrorism in The Hague.

What’s more, she said, studies of deradicalization programs going back decades have failed to show clear benefits.

Governments have tried it on neo-Nazis, members of the Red Brigades and IRA militants, among others, with mixed results. “Does it really matter if you go through a rehab program?” she said. “We don’t know.”

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“They want to know if we are dangerous,” Aida Sarina said.
CreditTara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

Yekaterina Sokirianskaya, the director of the Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center, said deradicalization programs offer no guarantees but are an alternative to indefinite incarceration or capital punishment.

Western governments show little sympathy. Female suicide bombers are hardly a rarity. Britain and Australia have revoked the citizenship of nationals who joined the Islamic State. France allows its citizens be tried in Iraqi courts, where hundreds of people have been sentenced to death in trials that last just a few minutes.

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Kazakhstan has sought a larger role in international diplomacy with a variety of initiatives to solve global problems, including once offering to dispose of other countries’ nuclear waste on its territory. And to date, it is the only country with a large contingent of citizens in Syria to agree to repatriate all of them — a total of 548, so far.

The program lasts about a month. The women meet individually and in small groups with psychologists. They undergo art therapy and watch plays put on by local actors that teach morality lessons on the pitfalls of radicalization.

“It’s a success when they accept guilt, when they promise to relate to nonbelievers with respect and when they promise to continue studying,” said Alim Shaumetov, the director of a nongovernmental group that helped design the curriculum.

“We don’t offer 100 percent guarantees,” he added. “If we manage to achieve 80 percent success, that is still success.”

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Teachers and helpers setting up for a child’s quiz in the playroom of the treatment center.
CreditTara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

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“I haven’t met any sister with some ideology left inside her,” said Ms. Farziyeva, right. “We understand we were wrong.”
CreditTara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

The everyday horror of life in the Islamic State soured some women on radicalism, Ms. Nadirshina, the psychologist, said. The very insecurity of their lives in recent years and months can be put to use in the deradicalization process, she said, by offering the women a safe and secure environment.

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Conversely, she said, any threat from the government during this delicate period, like stern interrogations by police, would work at cross-purposes. The male soldiers on guard, for example, are under strict orders not to intimidate the women.

Still, most analysts of radicalism reject the view of ISIS brides as merely browbeaten young women under the thumb of terrorist husbands. Some fought, while others at the least nurtured their zealot spouses. Handling the women has become a puzzle as they lie on a scale someplace between victims and perpetrators.

Ms. Sarina said she was cured. She said that soon after they arrived in Syria, her husband died and she vanished into a so-called house of widows in Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. Fighters regularly stopped by to pick out new brides, she said, but Ms. Sarina did not remarry.

As the fighting intensified, the ISIS official in charge of evacuating widows instead abandoned them in the desert, she said. They survived by eating grass. Some children froze to death on cold nights.

Now, Ms. Sarina said she was a mentor for other returning women in Kazakhstan, telling them ISIS failed to protect them so they should now trust the government. “I want the world to know it’s wholly realistic to rehabilitate us,” she said.

Still, Kenshilik Tyshkhan, a professor of religion who tries to persuade women in the program to adopt a moderate form of Islam, said in an interview that some women “express these ideas that a nonbeliever can be killed.” And many show little remorse, he said

“Everybody has a right to make a mistake,” Gulpari Farziyeva, 31, said of her journey to Syria, and marriages over six years to a succession of Islamic State militants. Even three weeks into treatment, she seemed remarkably untroubled by the militant group’s ways.

One day in Syria, she recalled, she was host at a dinner party at her apartment. While cooking dumplings and baking a cake, she dashed out to the market for a tablecloth she had forgotten to buy on an earlier trip.

At the market she saw a ghoulish scene, “five or six headless bodies,” on the ground along with “a lot of blood.” A public execution had taken place between her two trips. She averted her eyes, she said.

Nonetheless, she said, she bought the tablecloth and said the dinner party went swimmingly, with all the guests having a good time.

At another point, Ms. Farziyeva said, a militant living across the street was presented with an enslaved Yazidi concubine as a gift. “I was sorry for her,” she said. “She was a woman, too.” But as a non-Muslim, she said, the woman could not be taken in as a wife, with such rights as that entailed.

In the end though, Ms. Farziyeva expressed repentance. “I haven’t met any sister with some ideology left inside her,” she said. “We understand we were wrong.”

Cyber-espionage

EU countries test their ability to co-operate in the event of cyber attacks

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EU member states, the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and the European Commission have met to test and assess their co-operation capabilities and resilience in the event of a cybersecurity crisis. The exercise, organized by the Netherlands with the support of ENISA, is a key milestone towards the completion of  relevant operating procedures. The latter are developed in the framework of the NIS Co-operation Group, under the leadership of France and Italy, and aim for more coordinated information sharing and incident response among EU cybersecurity authorities.

Furthermore, member states, with the support of ENISA, launched today the Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network (CyCLONe) aimed at facilitating cooperation in case of disruptive cyber incidents.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “The new Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network indicates once again an excellent cooperation between the member states and the EU institutions in ensuring that our networks and critical systems are cyber secure. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we should work collectively in preparing and implementing rapid emergency response plans, for example in case of a large-scale cyber incident or crisis.”

ENISA Executive Director Juhan Lepassaar added: "Cyber crises have no borders. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity is committed to support the Union in its response to cyber incidents. It is important that the national cybersecurity agencies come together to coordinate decision-making at all levels. The CyCLONe group addresses this missing link.”

The CyCLONe Network will ensure that information flows more efficiently among different cybersecurity structures in the member states and will allow to better coordinate national response strategies and impact assessments. Moreover, the exercise organized follows up on the Commission's recommendation on a Coordinated Response to Large Scale Cybersecurity Incidents and Crises (Blueprint) that was adopted in 2017.

More information is available in this ENISA press release. More information on the EU cybersecurity strategy can be found in these Q&A and this brochure.

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coronavirus

 Commission approves €32 million Polish aid scheme to compensate airports for damage suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a PLN 142 million (approximately €32m) Polish aid scheme to compensate airports for the damage suffered due to the coronavirus outbreak. In order to limit the spread of the coronavirus, on 15 March 2020, Poland banned all international and domestic air passenger services at Polish airports. The flight restrictions were progressively lifted as of 1 June 2020, but certain travel warnings, travel bans and restrictive measures remained in place until the end of June 2020.

This resulted in high operating losses for the operators of Polish airports. Under the scheme, the Polish authorities will be able to compensate airports for the revenue losses suffered during the period between 15 March and 30 June 2020, as a result of the restrictive measures on international and domestic air passenger services implemented by Poland. The support will take the form of direct grants.

The scheme includes a claw-back mechanism, whereby any possible public support in excess of the actual damage received by the beneficiaries will have to be paid back to the Polish State. The risk of the state aid exceeding the damage is therefore excluded. The Commission assessed the measure under Article 107(2)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which enables the Commission to approve state aid measures granted by member states to compensate specific companies or specific sectors (in the form of schemes) for the damage directly caused by restrictive measures taken in exceptional occurrences, such as the coronavirus outbreak.

The Commission found that the  scheme notified by Poland will provide compensation for damage that is directly linked to the coronavirus outbreak. It also found that the measure is proportionate, as the compensation does not exceed what is necessary to make good the damage. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the aid is in line with EU state aid rules. More information will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number SA.58212 once confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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Belgium

Commission approves €2.2 million Belgian aid measures to support Flemish airports in the context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved €2.2 million Belgian aid measures to support the operators of Flemish airports (Antwerp airport, Ostend airport and Kortrijk airport) in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The measures were approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The measures consist in: (i) an aid scheme, under which all Flemish airport operators will receive support in the form of a direct grant; and (ii) support to the operators of Antwerp and Ostend airports in the form of payment deferrals of certain costs and fees (namely annual compensation for the use of statutory staff of the Flemish Region and concession fee for the use of the airport infrastructure due for the year 2020).

The purpose of the aid measures is to help Flemish airport operators mitigating the liquidity shortages that they have been facing due to the coronavirus outbreak. The Commission found the measures to be in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the measures can only be granted until the end of this year; (ii) the direct grants do not exceed €800,000 per company, as provided by the Temporary Framework; and (iii) the payment deferrals will be granted by 31 December 2020, and will be due by no later than 31 December 2021 and involve minimum remuneration, in line with the Temporary Framework.

The Commission therefore concluded that the measures are necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measures under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here.

The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.58299 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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