Report: The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the EU – Profiles, Threats & Policies launched at NieuwspoortPublished 4 April 2016
Despite the widespread media attention for foreign fighters in Europe, very little is known about the phenomenon itself, something also evidenced by the lack of a single foreign fighter definition across the EU.
In a study commissioned by the Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), ICCT addresses this gap by analysing not only the numbers and characteristics of foreign fighters across the EU, but also how the Union and Member States assess the threat of foreign fighters as well as their policy responses regarding security, preventive and legislative measures. The Report also outlines a series of policy options aimed both at the EU and its Member States.
- Of a total estimated 3,922 – 4,294 foreign fighters from EU Member States, around 30% have returned to their home countries.
- A majority of around 2,838 foreign fighters come from just four countries: Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, with Belgium having the highest per-capita FF contingent.
- There is no clear-cut profile of a European foreign fighter. Data indicates that a majority originate from metropolitan areas, with many coming from the same neighbourhoods, that an average of 17% are female, and that the percentage of converts among foreign fighters ranges from 6% to 23%.
- The radicalisation process of foreign fighters is reported to be short and often involves circles of friends radicalizing as a group and deciding to leave jointly for Syria and Iraq.
In analysing the policies of Member States in response to the foreign fighter phenomenon, the authors recommend that strategies be implemented which encompass a suitable, proportional, context-specific and effective mix of policy responses, taken from a toolbox of security, legislative, and preventive measures. Their analysis reveals that, while many Member States have already bolstered security and legislative policy measures, a larger focus needs to be put on preventive measures as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to deal with returning foreign fighters.
The report was presented to the NCTV during a launch event on 1 April 2016 at Nieuwspoort in The Hague, where the authors discussed their findings and recommendations with an audience of national and international policymakers, counter-terrorism experts, ambassadors and media representatives.
The following (former) Asser researchers and interns contributed to this report: Christophe Paulussen, Jessica Dorsey, Bérénice Boutin, Wim Zimmermann, Nadia Grant and Manon Beury.
>>Read the Full Report
>>Read the Executive Summary
- La Repubblica, Ecco chi sono i jihadisti d’Europa, 11 April 2016
- The Economist, Profiling Europe’s jihadists, 8 April 2016
- The Charlotte Observer, European anti-terror efforts hobbled by lack of trust, shared intelligence, 4 April 2016
- The Jerusalem Post, France, Belgium largest exporters of foreign fighters to Iraq and Syria, study finds, 4 April 2016
- Al Jazeera, One-third of EU fighters in Syria returned home: Study, 2 April 2016
- The Gulf Today, France largest source of ‘EU fighters in Syria’, 2 April 2016
- Reuters, Belgium largest source of European fighters in Syria per head: study, 1 April 2016
- Die Welt, Ein Drittel der IS-Kämpfer ist zurück in Europa (German), 1 April 2016
- Politico, Belgium has most foreign fighters per head, 1 April 2016
- The Copenhagen Post, Many foreign fighters returning home to Denmark, 5 April 2016
- De Morgen, 30 procent Syriëstrijders teruggekeerd naar Europa (Dutch), 1 April 2016
- Deutsche Welle, Report: Most EU foreign fighters come from four countries, 1 April 2016
- El Periódico, Más de 4.000 europeos se han unido a los grupos yihadista en Siria e Irak (Spanish), 1 April 2016
- RT, Most European ISIS fighters come from France, Germany, UK – study, 1 April 2016
- L’Express, 30% des Européens partis combatrre en Syrie seriaent de retour dans l’EU (French), 3 April 2016
- Bloomberg, Counter-Terrorism Center Says About 1,200 Foreign Fighters in EU, 1 April 2016
- Press TV, Most of EU militants in Iraq, Syria from 4 states: Study, 1 April 2016
- Sputnik International, Welcome Home! A Third of Europe’s Jihadist Fighters Return From Syria, Iraq, 1 April 2016
- Business Insider, Study: Belgium is the largest contributor of foreign fighters to Syria in proportion to its population, 1 April 2016
- Ynet News, Belgium largest source of European fighters in Syria per capita, 1 April 2016
- Al Arabiya, Most EU foreign fighters in Iraq, Syria are from 4 nations, 2 April 2016
- Ghana Web, One-third of EU fighters in Syria returned home – Study, 2 April 2016
- Trouw, Syriëganger steeds jonger en minder religieus (Dutch), 1 April 2016
- Het Nieuwsblad, Nieuwe jihadist radicaliseert op dertig dagen (Dutch), 2 April 2016
- De Standaard, Jihadist radicaliseert al in 30 dagen (Dutch), 2 April 2016
- De Telegraaf, IS-strijders in woonwijken geronseld (Dutch), 1 April 2016
- Algemeen Dagblad, Nieuwe jihadi’s razendsnel geradicaliseerd en piepjong (Dutch), 1 April 2016
- NRC, 30 procent van Europese Syriëgangers teruggekeerd (Dutch), 1 April 2016
- Elsevier, ‘Eenderde Syriëgangers keert terug naar Europa’ (Dutch), 1 April 2016
- NOS, Nederland doet het goed bij aanpak radicalisering (Dutch), 1 April 2016