Returning ISIS Fighters viewed as Threat to European Society

ONE =Kim Willsher, Returning jihadists ‘threaten new wave of terror in Europe” 20 December 2018,  

Europe is facing a new wave of terrorism as radicalised individuals return and jihadists are released from jail, the general secretary of Interpol has warned. Jürgen Stock, Interpol’s chief, who is also a criminologist and law enforcement officer from Germany, said: “We could soon be facing a second wave of other Islamic State linked or radicalised individuals that you might call Isis 2.0.”

“A lot of these are suspected terrorists or those who are linked to terrorist groups as supporters who are facing maybe two to five years in jail. Because they were not convicted of a concrete terrorist attack but only support for terrorist activities, their sentences are perhaps not so heavy.  In many parts of the world, in Europe but also Asia, this generation of early supporters will be released in the next couple of years, and they may again be part of a terrorist group or those supporting terrorist activities.”

Europe, and particularly France, has had a series of serious Islamist-linked terror attacks since 2014, including the assaults that killed 130 people in Paris in November 2015. He added: “We know that radicalisation takes place in prison and the very recent attack in Strasbourg, France, is another example.”

Stock, speaking to the Anglo-American Press Association in Paris, said Interpol had a database of about 45,000 suspected foreign jihadists but said that locating them was a challenge for police and security agencies.

“The so-called returnees are still a concern for many member countries. Many of those who left, for instance from Europe or Asia, have not yet returned. Some of them have been killed on the battlefield but some of them are missing. The security agencies are concerned about when they are coming back because most of them are battle hardened, they are trained and they are internationally connected. Remember, fighters from more than 100 countries went to the conflict zones. This was a huge opportunity to network on an international level, and of course these contacts still exist and we shouldn’t forget that.”

Stock said Interpol was developing an international database of biometric information to enable its 194 member countries to identify terror and criminal suspects. “It’s essential to make sure this information is in the right hands at the right time and place. You never know when a piece of information might become relevant.”

He said the database was particularly vital in tracing foreign Isis fighters taking an indirect route back from Syria or Iraq to Europe. “With Isis defeated geographically, these individuals will either try to move to other areas of conflict in south-east Asia, or Africa, or remain in Europe to carry out attacks. Isis still poses a threat but more as an underground operation and organisation.

“As we have seen with major terrorist attacks in Europe, many will attempt to use fake documents and that’s the point where Interpol comes into play. We know in many of the cases terrorists or supporters are using multiple identities. These people are using fake identities, fake ID documents, and this poses a challenge to the law enforcement agencies. We have seen time and time again that it can take just one piece of information to connect the dots and identify previously unseen links. Information shared by Interpol about foreign fighters has already led to successful prosecutions in Europe.

“We’re building a global early-warning system against terrorist activity and terrorist movement. We are helping dismantle terrorist activity and the same applies for other areas like organised crime and cyber crime. By making sure this information is available at the frontlines of policing.”

Stock spoke about the disappearance of the former Interpol president Meng Hongwei, who vanished after flying to China in September. Interpol received his resignation 10 days later. The Chinese authorities said Meng was under investigation for corruption.

Kim Jong Yang, of South Korea, was named Interpol president at a meeting in Dubai last month. Stock said the president’s role in the organisation was honorary and that Meng had been first and foremost a Chinese official. “A Chinese officer was arrested by the Chinese authorities on Chinese soil. That is something outside Interpol’s mandate,” he said adding that the organisation’s regulations meant it had to keep out of the politics of individual member states.


TWO = Josie Ensor & Raf Sanchez, “Europe will see increase in terror in 2018, as foreign Isil fighters ‘return home with high-tech skills,” 13 February 2018,

An Iraqi policeman holds a drone near the village of Arbid, on the southern Mosul front, on November 12, 2016 CREDIT: AFP

The terror threat to Europe will only increase this year, experts have warned, as growing numbers of foreign fighters return home with “high tech” weapons knowledge learned on the battlefield. Scores of jihadists are expected to trickle back to the UK and the continent, bringing with them skills acquired in Syria and Iraq, such as the weaponising of drones and the industrialised manufacture of car bombs and IEDs, according to a new report from defence analysts Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC).

“Foreign fighters returning to Europe will provide critical skills that will help an increasing number of operational Islamist networks conduct more complex attacks,” Otso Iho, the report’s author, said. “These skills include the construction of viable IEDs – learned in Iraq and Syria where the Islamic State (Isil) has produced IEDs on an industrial scale – expertise in assault weapons, and the use of new weapons types or technologies such as drones.”

 Isil attacks Iraqi forces with bombs dropped from drone CREDIT: AMAQ 

Several recent attacks on European soil have involved crude “low-capability” weapons, but the successful use of drones or car bombs by Islamist militants would mark a notable increase in the threat level, they say.  Isil fighters have found ways to turn commercial technology – available from Amazon or a high street shop – into effective and deadly weapons.

Those who monitor the growing use of drones warn that it is likely only a matter of time before terrorists attempt to use an armed drone for attacks against the West. “Clearly this is a technology that can cross borders and represents threats outside of conflict zones so it’s something we all need to take seriously,” Chris Woods, the director of Air Wars, an independent group which monitors the conflict in Iraq and Syria, told the Telegraph.

  Injured people react after a van crashed into pedestrians in Las Ramblas, downtown Barcelona, Spain

In addition to the immediate and direct security threat posed by returning foreign fighters, the report concluded that significant risk is likely to emerge through their potential to transform and radicalise existing Europe-based Islamist networks. Their input and leadership could plausibly move groups that have previously held a supportive role – financing, facilitating travel, spreading propaganda – to adopt an operational one: setting up cells, acquiring weapons, providing facilities and safe houses for explosives building, and recruiting militants for attacks.

Thousands of foreign fighters are thought to have fled the so-called caliphate in Syria and crossed over the border into Turkey undetected. Britain has one of the largest populations of returning jihadists who travelled to join Isil in the world. Around 850 UK citizens made the journey to the extremist group’s self-declared caliphate, with 400 of those believed to have since returned.

Five British Isil suspects have been caught on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, including most recently two notorious jihadists dubbed The Beatles. The fate of Londoners El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey remains unclear as the U is reported to have stripped their citizenship and has signalled it does not want try the men.

But British intelligence is hoping to gain vital intelligence from the pair during interrogation, including what skills foreign fighters have gained while fighting in the “caliphate”. They will also be interested in information on which British jihadists may have managed to escape the caliphate and could be heading home.

“The UK is an example of this trend, where despite ample precedent and prison sentences for returnees, it has the highest number of returned militants in Europe with around half having come back,” Mr Iho said. “For those returnees planning on engaging in violence, the symbolic target value of Western European countries perhaps outweighs the higher likelihood of being apprehended and imprisoned.”

Richard Barrett, former director of global counterterrorism at MI6, said that while returning foreign fighters have not as yet added significantly to the threat of terrorism around the world, “the number of attacks inspired or directed by the Islamic State continues to rise,” he told the Telegraph.All returnees, whatever their reason for going home, will continue to pose some degree of risk.”



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