Returning Islamist fighters are being offered ‘jihadi rehab’ instead of prosecution for supporting blood-thirsty terrorist groups.
The vast majority of more than 300 young men who have arrived back from Syria and Iraq are being allowed to continue their normal lives.
Many have been offered places on the Government’s counter-radicalisation scheme, known as the Channel programme, which has seen a substantial rise in referrals.
Evidence of the ‘softer approach’ comes despite assurances from Home Secretary Theresa May that terrorist sympathisers will face the full force of the law.
She said new legislation should be ready by the end of this month as David Cameron insisted returning jihadists should face ‘criminal investigations and prosecution’.
Two Cardiff men who travelled to Syria have been allowed to return to their homes despite being arrested under the Terrorism Act.
Ahmed Mohammadi, 19, and Shahid Miah, 23, were released without charge and instead referred to Channel despite their close ties with Islamic State.
The scheme has seen a 58 per cent rise (from 748 to 1,281) in the number of referrals in the past year as the crisis in the Middle East grew.
Whitehall sources said one of the biggest problems is securing evidence of terrorist activities committed by Britons 2,000 miles away in Syria.
One told the Sunday Times that investigators also want to balance the approach towards returning jihadists with the need to avoid being perceived as ‘anti- Muslim’.
The official said: ‘The police and MI5 are being careful about how to handle the returnees because they don’t want to disturb community cohesion.
‘Obviously they have to protect this country’s national security, but without any solid evidence . . . it’s very difficult to arrest and charge them.
‘The authorities are increasingly using a softer approach by enlisting returnees into Channel which . . . helps them challenge and ultimately change their extremist views.’
The Government raised the national security threat level in August to ‘severe’ amid warnings of the threat posed by returning jihadists.
Some disenchanted travellers have asked for an amnesty after discovering the dangerous reality of infighting among Islamist groups on the frontline.
Mr Cameron has warned of a ‘generational struggle’ against the ‘poisonous ideology’ of Islamist extremism.
Last week counter-terrorism police arrested four men amid allegations that they were plotting attacks at Remembrance Day events.
An assessment of Mohammadi and Miah by the Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit in August found that the pair were susceptible to ‘indoctrination’.
The pair are understood to have been friends with Reyaad Khan, 21, and Naseer Muthana, 20, two Cardiff jihadists who appeared in an Islamic State recruitment video.
Mohammadi’s father, Karim, insisted his son did not fight in Syria and said he has returned to university to study civil engineering.
Police chiefs have insisted that every case of a returning jihadi will be treated ‘on its merits’ with some offered support by mental health experts or social services.
They are closely monitoring the progress of a Danish programme for rehabilitating jihadis which offers a wealth of support and counselling.
Terror law expert Geoffrey Robertson QC said the Government has a ‘duty under international law’ to secure the prosecution of jihadis responsible for ‘crimes against humanity’.
He said: ‘What we need is a full-blooded commitment to prosecute all returning Islamic State fighters who are British citizens. This is our duty and we need no new laws to do it.’
But Prof Peter Neumann, of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said the Government should step up de-radicalisation work.
He said: ‘The people we have been talking to . . . want to quit but feel trapped because all the Government is talking about is locking them up for 30 years.’