5 Threats Posed by Returning ISIS Fighters

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Islamic State Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi has reportedly given foreign fighters a choice of returning home or carrying out suicide bombings, according to a report by local media outlet Al-Sumaria News.

A source in Ninevah Province said the terrorist group had closed it’s “troops and migrants bureau” that administers foreign fighters and offered the men the chance to die as a martyr in a suicide bombing or to return to their countries of origin.

Here are five risks of what might happen if they did return:

They could carry out terrorist attacks in America and Europe

Returning fighters pose a clear national security threat. It only takes one security lapse for a returning jihadi to be able to launch a terrorist attack in their country of origin. Mehdi Nemmouche, the terrorist who murdered four people at the Brussels Jewish museum in 2014 spent time in Syria where he is believed to have been a torturer for ISIS.

They could radicalize others

Radical jihadists can spread their hateful views. German jihadis have extensive radicalization networks among the Salafi community. When fighters return, they can use their “star status” and street credibility to spread the message of the Islamic State amongst disaffected youth.

They could further divide society

Sweden has offered a package of benefits to returning jihadis as a reintegration program. The controversial initiative, being tested in the city of Lund, provides returning fighters with a path to employment, housing, education and financial support.

These measures will alienate more conservative elements who will be incensed at what they see as excessively lenient treatment. The debate around appropriate handling of the situation will be used by extremists to increase division and mistrust, thus making it easier for radicals to push their agenda.

They could stretch limited resources.

It is very expensive and time consuming to monitor and track all returning fighters and the more who return, the harder that will be. Major Western countries are operating under large budget deficits and resources and being overstretched. Having to devote considerable police time and money to following returned fighters diverts money from other vital areas.

Even if no attack takes place, this achieves one of the goals of Islamism, to slowly bleed the West out through a strategy of “death by a thousand cuts.”

They could toxify the debate about legitimate refugees

With the myriad of conflicts taking place around the globe and in the Middle East in particular, there are many legitimate refugees seeking asylum in America and in Europe. When returning fighters slip in amongst this group, it creates an atmosphere of mistrust that negatively impacts the most vulnerable – legitimate refugees from the Middle East who are trying to escape jihad and war.

Fear of jihadi fighters can prevent those people from reaching the West and escaping the clutches of groups like ISIS, which is another victory for the terrorists. 

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Elliot Friedland

Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.