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• For every jihadist that has traveled to Syria, Libya, or other places where the group calling itself Islamic State (IS) has attempted to take root, there is a family affected by what their sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, husbands or wives, have done. Their feelings and reactions are the subject of this paper.
• Instead of simply documenting these stories, our aim was to find out if they can be generalized. Do families who have lost members to IS share certain experiences and emotions? Are there common themes and narratives?
• Based on 46 publicly available accounts of families from 17 countries, we were able to identify four themes. They are:
• What becomes apparent is how universal – and universally negative – families’ perceptions of their relatives’ actions were, and how little it mattered whether a family was from Tunisia or Turkey, Britain or Bosnia. In many cases, their stories and reactions were interchangeable.
• The families’ determination and emotional strength was deeply impressive. Yet, throughout their experience, many of them also felt helpless, and few had received adequate support or knew of people they could turn to. To us, this seems like a missed opportunity.
• Fighters’ families are among the most powerful assets in the struggle against IS. Their stories highlight the pain and suffering that aspiring jihadists are causing to their loved ones. Families can be key to stopping their sons and daughters from leaving; encouraging them to defect; and helping them re-integrate once they return. They need to be empowered, not left alone.