'One day in 2012, a group of policemen in a Danish town were sitting around in the office when an unusual call came in. This town, called Aarhus, is a clean, orderly place with very little crime. So what the callers were saying really held the cops' attention. They were parents, and they were "just hysterical," recalled Thorleif Link, one of the officers. Their son was missing. They woke up one day and he was gone.
The officers put together whatever clues they had about the missing person: He was a teenager who went to a local high school, and he lived in a largely Muslim immigrant neighborhood just outside town. But before they got any further with their investigation, they got another call, from another set of parents. Their son was missing too.
"Why is this going on?" asked Allan Aarslev, a police superintendent.
After talking to the parents and snooping around the neighborhood, the police figured it out: These young men and women had gone to Syria. They were among the exodus of thousands of European citizens who were drawn to the call put out by ISIS, the Islamist terrorist group, for Muslims worldwide to help build the new Islamic state.
Link and Aarslev are crime prevention officers. They usually deal with locals who are drawn to right-wing extremism, or gangs. The landscape of global terrorism was completely new to them. But they decided to take it on. And once they did, they wound up creating an unusual — and unusually successful — approach to combating radicalization.
The rest of Europe came down hard on citizens who had traveled to Syria. France shut down mosques it suspected of harboring radicals. The U.K. declared citizens who had gone to help ISIS enemies of the state. Several countries threatened to take away their passports — a move formerly reserved for convicted traitors.
But the Danish police officers took a different approach: They made it clear to citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society.'