A new study on returning jihadis found that an estimated 60 percent of these Islamist extremists went on to commit further terror offenses.
The study followed 166 French jihadis who went to fight in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1986 and 2006 and were subsequently imprisoned in France or abroad. The study, which was conducted by the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism (CAT), did not follow those who joined Islamic State, as those individuals are still imprisoned, for the most part.
The findings out of France lies in stark contrast to previous international studies regarding the behavior of returning jihadists. Those studies identified the terrorism re-engagement rate of returning jihadis at 11 percent, according to Jean-Charles Brisard, president of CAT.
The highest rate of recidivism was found among French jihadis who went to fight in Iraq in the early 2000s. One hundred percent of the 16 jihadis who fought in Iraq went on to commit acts of terror upon their return. The lowest rate of 39 percent recidivism was found among those who fought in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Meanwhile, of the jihadis who do not engage in terror attacks upon return, many still retain their radical beliefs and pass them on to the youth in their communities, according to the study.
The study is of upmost concern to French authorities as 2,540 Islamist extremists are set to be released from French prisons between now and 2022. Three hundred of those prisoners are in jail for terrorism, including many who returned to France after joining Islamic State and other jihadi groups in Syria and Iraq.
Moreover, as is often the case, other extremists in prison may have been convicted on criminal charges relating to terrorism if prosecutors thought a terror charge would not result in a conviction. Others are known to have been radicalized in prison. At least 498 prisoners slated for release have been identified by the French Court of Auditors as being “susceptible to radicalization.”
Just a few years ago, French counterterrorism forces were at a “breaking point” in part due to the growing number of attacks but also because of the capacity in which they were able to serve. Reports showed police and counterterrorism forces were “bored by their job” of standing guard outside vulnerable targets instead of training to proactively prepare against future attacks.
Speaking with Newsweek in 2015, France’s Senator Nathalie Goulet who commissioned France’s senate inquiry into jihadi networks, shared an assessment that is no less true five years later:
“At the end of the day we will have a policeman behind everybody in the street. Right now we are just reacting and not preventing. It’s like trying to get the Titanic out of the water with a spoon.”
While the CAT study is based on French recidivism rates, the problem is a global one with this French report serving as a case study — and a warning — for the United States.
Given the rise of crime in the U.S. due to 2020 riots and the cutbacks in police due to defunding decisions, there is even greater strain on the law enforcement community to work in terror prevention.
Cultivating a culture honoring the rule of law along with encouraging preventative programs remains our best option for countering the broader challenge of dealing with returning or future jihadis.
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