Mohamed Nidalha hasn’t seen his son Reda in more than two years.
Born and raised in Leiden in the Netherlands, Nidalha said his son fell under the influence of extremists while staying with an uncle in Brussels and fled to Syria to join the Islamic State.
Nidalha says he contacted Dutch security officials once he learned about his son’s plans but was told there was nothing that could be done, because Reda was over 18.
“Even when I told them my son is planning on joining a terrorist organization they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t help you,’” Nidalha said.
Reda is one of an estimated 220 Dutch residents who have traveled to Iraq or Syria to join terrorist groups like the Islamic State according to The Soufan Group. Together, an estimated 5,000 people have traveled to Iraq and Syria from the European Union to become foreign fighters.
Terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have brought renewed attention to the threat of radicalized foreign fighters returning home. The violence has also prompted many countries, including the Netherlands, to focus on efforts to prevent the radicalization of youths in the first place.
In Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands, religious leaders, community groups and the police have all been working to combat the threat of homegrown radicalism.
But predicting who may become radicalized, and stopping a committed person from leaving for Syria or Iraq, is difficult.
“If they really want to go and if they’re in a circle with like-minded people, there’s not a lot you can do about it,” said Marion van San, a researcher at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.