Research and Recommendations for the EU’s Foreign Fighter Epidemic

Europeans migrating to support the Islamic State (IS) has been an alarming issue for western nations ever since the group declared itself a caliphate in 2014. Europeans and the rest of the world have watched as angst over this issue has turned to horror when several of the individuals responsible for the Paris and Belgium attacks were suspected to be European nationals trained in Syria. Last week the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) based in the Netherlands released a report titled The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union: Profiles, Threats & Policies detailing​ how EU member-states are addressing this aspect of national security. Some of the report’s major findings are displayed below:

  • 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 [FF] 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.
The ICCT also produced a detailed graphic, which summarizes the key facts that were gathered from a variety of different sources during their research. The report concludes by recommending “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.” These strategies especially include “preventive measures as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to deal with returning foreign fighters.” In addition to the implementation of counter-foreign fighter policy, the report also suggests uniformity among EU nations when defining the term “foreign fighter” would help to focus their efforts as opposed to unilateral action.
For more information on foreign fighters, please take a look at some of the following resources available at the Homeland Security Digital Library: