THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The Netherlands' main intelligence service says it's treating Dutch children in conflict zones in Iraq and Syria as "jihadist travelers" since they may have received military training.
At least 80 Dutch children are in those areas, either having been born there or taken there by one or both parents, the General Intelligence and Security Service said Wednesday in a new report. It says fewer than 20 percent of the children are age 9 or older.
The report said because children in territory controlled by the Islamic State group "sometimes receive weapons and combat training from as young as nine," intelligence officials consider them jihadi travelers.
Dutch authorities routinely detain people returning from Syria if they are suspected of extremist links, but have so far not detained any children.
An estimated 280 Dutch citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with Islamic militants and about 50 have returned home. The agency said it expects more to attempt to get back to the Netherlands as IS faces increasing an loss of territory in the region and living conditions deteriorate further in the group's self-proclaimed Caliphate.
In a grim warning likely to be echoed throughout Europe, the Dutch intelligence agency said returning jihadi fighters are likely to pose more of a threat than before, as they will likely have been in the combat zone for longer and are likely more battle-hardened, possibly traumatized and have developed networks of like-minded extremists.
"Children as well as adults may have participated in the fighting or in other acts of violence such as executions," the report said. "It is possible that these experiences lower the threshold for using violence and can result in traumas."