Leiden Safety and Security Blog

New ICCT Research Paper: European foreign fighters in Syria

New ICCT Research Paper: European foreign fighters in Syria

In a recently published ICCT Research Paper, Edwin Bakker, Christophe Paulussen and Eva Entenmann examine some of the challenges, as well as possible strategies and legal mechanisms available for European policymakers to address the foreign fighters phenomenon.

One of the most important issues on the agendas of intelligence and security agencies in the UK, Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands and many other European countries is the so-called foreign fighters phenomenon of mainly young Muslim residents joining the violent jihad in Syria. Starting in 2012, the number of European foreign fighters with a jihadist political agenda participating in the Syrian civil war has increased exponentially. It has become an ever-growing concern for European policymakers. In particular, the potential of returning foreign fighters that have radicalised makes them a threat – if only to themselves and their direct surroundings.

The ICCT Research Paper first assesses the complex potential threat posed by returning foreign fighters to Europe’s security. The paper then outlines some of the risk assessment and governance challenges that European policymakers, governments and legal practitioners face in relation to this threat. These challenges range from the need to invest in partnership and positive relations (based on mutual trust with European Islamic communities, the families of foreign fighters, and civil society organisations) to improvements in the areas of risk assessment, prevention, the pursuit of foreign fighters, and various legal issues. Regarding the latter, approaching prosecution via international crimes will be analysed before turning to specific national practices. In this context, the paper focuses on a few European states that have a considerable number of departing foreign fighters as estimated by their own intelligence services. The paper concludes with a series of recommendations.

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