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Returning Jihadist Foreign Fighters

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Challenges Pertaining to Threat Assessment and Governance of this Pan-European Problem

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Since the first reports detailing the presence of foreigner participating in the Syrian civil war in September 2011, the number of foreign fighters has increased exponentially. Especially European policymakers are worried about the potential threat posed by the presence of hundreds of European foreign fighters in Syria and the possibility that some of them could return to stage an attack. This article examines the challenges European policymakers face when addressing the foreign fighter phenomenon in general, and that of returnees in particular. The article first discusses the complexity of the (potential) threat posed by those that return from the fight in Syria. Next, it outlines the need for and challenge of providing an accurate threat assessment. The authors then present a number of recent ideas and proposals on how to deal with the phenomenon of foreign fighters in Europe. These proposals highlight the need for a mixed or comprehensive approach, which is sensible given the complexity as well as the multidimensional and international nature of the threat. However, it also poses an additional challenge to policymakers pertaining to the implementation of such an approach. This governance challenge is discussed by investigating the possible roles of various actors when dealing with returnees. Based on these findings, the concluding part presents a number of policy recommendations.

Affiliations: 1: Research fellow, International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, The HagueDirector, Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism, Leiden University; 2: Research Fellow, icct/Asser, The Hague; 3: Programme Officer, icct/Asser, The Hague


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