The return of ISIS fighters threatens European security
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- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Over 50,000 Jihadists from more than 100 countries have traveled to Syria, Iraq and Libya in the last five years to join the Islamic State (ISIS). Of these, nearly 7,000 came from countries in North Africa.
Now, the return of survivors to Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt is posing a threat to those countries and also to the European Union, according to a new study by the Egmont Institute for International Relations, a Brussels-based think tank, and the German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.
The report, released on Wednesday, says that “from a European perspective, North African dynamics are of particular interest. First, because instability in the region could have a damaging spillover effect for European security. Second, because a majority of foreign terrorist fighters from Europe were of North African descent, which has strengthened ties between jihadi milieus across the Mediterranean that might have an equally lasting impact for security on both sides.”
Analysts note that North African countries have already been confronted by returning foreign fighters in the past, and they link the Casablanca and Madrid attacks of 2003 and 2004 with groups of Moroccans who traveled to Afghanistan following the Taliban victory in 1996, and to Iraq after the US invasion of 2003. But this time the risk is even greater, because “this jihadi mobilization is possibly larger than any previous ones, including that for the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan in the1980s.”
Now that the so-called Caliphate has been removed from its last stronghold in Syria, many governments are facing the challenge of what to do with returning fighters. There are countries that refuse point-blank to take them back, such as Switzerland or the Netherlands. Others are willing to accept their own nationals, but nobody has magic formula to detect, arrest, process and rehabilitate these individuals, if such a thing is possible.
The study focuses on the challenges for Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which together have sent out more foreign fighters than the entire EU. Algeria was not included because the number of jihadists from that country was very small, according to the researchers.