As the Islamic State comes apart in Syria and Iraq, around 5,600 foreign fighters of the “caliphate” have already returned to their home countries, according to a report issued by U.S. think tank The Soufan Center.
Those who have returned may not all continue the violent jihad, but they will all pose “varying levels of risk” for law enforcement and security services around the world, the report says.
Over 40,000 foreigners traveled to Iraq and Syria from over 110 different countries to join the Islamic State. Hundreds have already returned home to places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, the U.K., and Germany. Only a few hundred out of the thousands came from North America, with the group estimating that fewer than 129 fighters have come from the United States.
The report did say that those who had left to join ISIS were proving to be more manageable than originally anticipated if they returned home. “They generally appear to have had a stronger desire to join something new rather than destroy something old. As a result, returnees have, so far, proved a more manageable problem than initially anticipated.”
But fewer people have returned than initially anticipated, indicating that most have stayed to defend the caliphate, even if they die in the process.
Women and children will also pose a particularly challenging problem for authorities and social services in their home countries. These groups are particularly vulnerable to the extremist ideology espoused by IS, although there have been reports of women and children being trained with weapons and used to torture and kill.
With history as a guide, it is inevitable that this “terrorist diaspora” will spawn violent jihadist groups around the world. The anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, which drew thousands of “Afghan Arabs” to fight the Soviet invasion, created thousands of jihadists with combat experience and a network of like-minded individuals looking to topple other empires. It led to groups like Al-Qaeda and the September 11th attacks. But with an accompanying advancement in intelligence and law enforcement mechanisms to counter threats like these, its likely tactics will evolve away from large and spectacular attacks, and instead focus on small scale, easily executed and relatively “low casualty” attacks.
Image courtesy of the Voice of America
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