TIME Terrorism

U.N. Report: More Than 25,000 Foreigners Fight With Terrorists

The flow is "higher than it has ever been historically"

(UNITED NATIONS) — The number of fighters leaving home to join al-Qaida and the Islamic State group in Iraq, Syria and other countries has spiked to more than 25,000 from over 100 nations, according to a new U.N. report.

The panel of experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against al-Qaida said in the report obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press that its analysis indicates the number of foreign terrorist fighters worldwide increased by 71 percent between mid-2014 and March 2015.

It said the scale of the problem has increased over the past three years and the flow of foreign fighters “is higher than it has ever been historically.”

The overall number of foreign terrorist fighters has “risen sharply from a few thousand … a decade ago to more than 25,000 today,” the panel said in the report to the U.N. Security Council.

The report said just two countries have accounted for over 20,000 foreign fighters: Syria and Iraq. They went to fight primarily for the Islamic State group but also the Al-Nusra Front.

Looking ahead, the panel said the thousands of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria and Iraq are living and working in “a veritable ‘international finishing school’ for extremists,” as was the case in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

A military defeat of the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq could have the unintended consequence of scattering violent foreign terrorist fighters across the world, the panel said. And while governments are focusing on countering the threat from fighters returning home, the panel said it’s possible that some may be traumatized by what they saw and need psychological help, and that others may be recruited by criminal networks.

In addition to Syria and Iraq, the report said Afghan security forces estimated in March that about 6,500 foreign fighters were active in the country. And it said hundreds of foreigners are fighting in Yemen, Libya and Pakistan, around 100 in Somalia, and others in the Sahel countries in northern Africa, and in the Philippines.

The number of countries the fighters come from has also risen dramatically from a small group in the 1990s to over 100 today — more than half the countries in the world — including some that have never had previous links with al-Qaida associated groups, the panel said.

It cited the “high number” of foreign fighters from Tunisia, Morocco, France and Russia, the increase in fighters from the Maldives, Finland and Trinidad and Tobago, and the first fighters from some countries in sub-Saharan Africa which it didn’t name.

The panel said the fighters and their networks “pose an immediate and long-term threat” and “an urgent global security problem” that needs to be tackled on many fronts and has no easy solution.

With globalized travel, it said, the chance of a person from any country becoming a victim of a foreign terrorist attack “is growing, particularly with attacks targeting hotels, public spaces and venues.”

But the panel noted that a longstanding terrorist goal is “generating public panic” and stressed that the response needs to “be measured, effective and proportionate.”

It said the most effective policy is to prevent the radicalization, recruitment and travel of would-be fighters.

The panel noted that less than 10 percent of basic information to identify foreign fighters has been put in global systems and called for greater intelligence sharing. As a positive example, it noted that the “watch list” in Turkey — a key transit point to Syria and Iraq — now includes 12,500 individuals.

TIME United Nations

Reports: U.N. Seeks to Tackle Tide of Foreigners Joining Militant Groups

Resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle waves Islamist flag in celebration after Islamic State militants took over Tabqa air base, in nearby Raqqa city
Reuters A resident of Tabqa city touring the streets on a motorcycle celebrates after Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria militants took over Tabqa air base, in the nearby Syrian city of Raqqa on Aug. 24, 2014

Draft resolution seen by Reuters sets out tough new rules for extremists wanting to cross borders to join jihadist groups

The U.N. Security Council plans to press countries to update their laws to make traveling abroad to join a terrorist group a serious criminal offense, in the hope of stemming the flow of fresh foreign recruits into the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS, reported Reuters.

According to Reuters, the U.S. circulated a draft resolution Monday night on how to “prevent and suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting or equipping” of foreign fighters. The 15-member Security Council is expected to unanimously adopt the resolution at a meeting on Sept. 24, at which time it would be binding on all 193 bloc members states.

The draft calls on states to declare as illegal, as well as punishable under tough penalties, for citizens to by any means engage in the “perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts, or the providing or receiving of terrorist training,” Reuters said.

It also compels states “to require that airlines under their jurisdiction provide advance passenger information to the appropriate national authorities” on people under U.N. sanctions. States would also be required to bar anyone suspected of affiliation with a terrorist group — or of prospective affiliation with one — from entering their borders, said the news agency.

[Reuters]

TIME Terrorism

Syria Conflict Spawning ‘New Generation of Terrorists,’ Report Warns

A rebel fighter walks on a street in the Syrian city of Aleppo following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by the government forces on April 27, 2014
Baraa Al-Halabi—AFP/Getty Images A rebel fighter walks on a street in the Syrian city of Aleppo following a reported bombardment with explosive-packed "barrel bombs" by the government forces on April 27, 2014

In just three years, 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria to fight, according to a new report by the Soufan Group — and most arrive already steeped in extremism

The civil war in Syria already appears to have drawn more foreign fighters than the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, and may prove an even more dangerous incubator for terrorism in the long run, according to a new report by a private security company.

The report, by the Soufan Group, estimates that 12,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria. The estimate is up sharply from 7,000 that U.S. and Israeli intelligence estimated at the start of 2014, and more than the 10,000 thought to have fought the Soviets in Afghanistan, the decadelong conflict that spawned al-Qaeda.

The greatest concern about terrorism resides in the perhaps 3,000 fighters the report says traveled to Syria from Western countries to fight with rebel groups dominated by Islamic extremists. Though arrayed against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian allies, the fundamentalists might in time choose to direct violence against Western targets, “the far enemy” in the parlance of al-Qaeda — and recruit those battle-hardened foreign fighters to return to their home countries and carry out attacks.

“Leaving aside what may happen in Syria, if al-Qaeda can maintain a network of even a small number of motivated returnees, or recruit fighters to its terrorist agenda while they are still in Syria, it may once more pose a significant global threat,” the report says.

Most of the foreign fighters in Syria arrived from Arab countries, with 3,000 alone from Tunisia and another 2,500 from Saudi Arabia. But 700 fighters are thought to have traveled to Syria from France; 400 from the U.K.; and around 250 each from Belgium, Australia and Germany, the report says, quoting estimates by the nations ’ own governments.

The study says about 70 fighters from the U.S. have traveled to Syria, quoting an FBI statement from May. Last Friday, the conflict recorded its first known American suicide bomber, when Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a recent resident of Florida, detonated the truck he was driving in an attack for al-Nusra Front, an extremist Sunni force.

Study author Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence official and U.N. specialist on al-Qaeda, writes that that leaders of groups that attract most foreign fighters — al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) — were previously members of al-Qaeda. He adds that the process of indoctrination in extremist thought may well be accelerated by social media, as young would-be fighters reinforce their views in self-limiting Twitter, Facebook and other feeds. In any event, most already are familiar with the extremist ideology that recruits learned from Osama bin Laden and his acolytes.

“The progression from foreign fighter to terrorist is not a linear one, nor is it inevitable, and the majority of people who return from the fighting in Syria may pose no terrorist threat,” Barrett writes. “But the difficulty remains how to distinguish those who will from those who won’t.”

The only known attack outside Syria by a foreign fighter occurred in Belgium in May, where a French citizen who had fought for a year in Syria with ISIS killed three people at a Jewish museum on May 24. But if the experience after the Soviet war in Afghanistan is any example, the report says, “the Syrian war is likely to be an incubator for a new generation of terrorists.”

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