After the fall of Mosul and the death of the self-proclaimed ‘Caliph,’ fears in the West are multiplying over the possibility of foreign fighters returning home. In Syria and Iraq, they now have no more reasons to fight. A Europol report says that 250 returning foreign fighters could become jihadists. They have double passports. In Syria, they have got military training so they would be able to carry out terrorist attacks in our countries.
Professor Lorenzo Vidino, director of the ‘Program on Extremism‘ at George Washington University, described these scenarios in his report ‘Behind Syria and Iraq: the global reach of ISIS’ realized for the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI). Vidino is considered by Governments all around the world as one of the top experts on Islam, in Europe and North America. He is a lecturer at several US and European Universities. In what he considers his best work, the ‘New Muslim Brotherhood in the West’, a book published in 2010 by Columbia University Press, he sums up part of his research over the last 15 years, focusing on the dynamics of mobilization of the jihadist networks in the West. He explains also the government counter-radicalization policies and the activities of Muslim organizations.
Some weeks ago, Vidino spoked in front of Senator Coker at the Commission for International Affairs of the United States, and said: “Since the self-declared Islamic State, slowly but steadily, loses ground in Iraq and Syria, questions about what we are expecting are of paramount importance, without resorting to clairvoyance, countless factors, some predictable and some no, will affect future developments. As for the former, it can reasonably be argued that even in the most optimistic of the post-Daesh scenarios in the territories previously occupied by the group in Iraq and Syria, it is extremely essential to create a stable and cohesive sociopolitical situation. It is also probable that IS will return to what he was in his original intent: about ten years ago-a deadly force that used tactics ranging from pure terrorism to guerrillas. Its priorities will be to regain the territory it has lost (something that could occasionally be able to do in some areas) and undermine the Iraqi government and the various forces that it is fighting in Syria, exploiting sectarian tensions”
With time, ISIS may probably become more decentralized and amorphous, the organization operating in the more asymmetric way around the world. This could involve various dynamics: some of its executives and cadres could move to neighboring countries, Jordan and Lebanon, with their massive populations of Syrian refugees. The indigenous Salafist scenes will probably cause serious problems. But the worst situation is Turkey, where in recent years other jihadist groups have built a wide range of networks with little interferences from the Turkish authorities.
Turkish government’s crisis after the coup d’état last year has led to clutches within the intelligence communities and the forces that have previously weakened the capabilities of terrorism in the country. IS could also rely on its affiliates around the world. The group has official provinces, such as Wilayat in Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sinai Peninsula, Nigeria, the North Caucasus and East Asia, and small groups around the world have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of the group and self-proclaimed Caliph. These affiliates will continue the global project also after the death of al-Baghdadi. ISIS can play in many problematic regions where its affiliates can work undisturbed. Clearly, with local variables: the factors in each of these areas can dramatically increase or reduce the chances of IS’s regional revitalization and the devotion of each of them. Many IS operators could create other clandestine, politically stable networks in the region and engage in terrorist activities with the objective of destabilizing them. Tunisia, like many other North African countries, is particularly vulnerable to this risk because of the recent unprecedented mobilization in the Caliphate of its citizens. Several Central Asian countries have a great number of foreign fighters which have provided to ISIS, with a prominent role played on the battlefield.
Is it possible to invest in integration projects for individuals returning from Syria and Iraq? Professor Vidino evidenced the importance for the US and European governments to finance support reintegration activities with the support of Intelligence, and to pursue anti-corruption policies. Recalling that it is impossible to identify the various terrorist matrices under a single and homogeneous line of thought, as we increasingly witness the insurrection of individual or groups of individuals, who meet ISIS or members of other terrorist factions through social or other networks. The great difference of problem of terrorism between Europe and the United States is that for terrorists is easier to come in Europe, passing through Turkey and Syria, while it is very difficult for them to enter USA.
There are some individuals around the world who are increasingly joining Al Qaeda and IS. In the West, in fact, in the 99% of the cases, those individuals are self- radicalized. While in Syria and Iraq there are groups who recruit and even pay to attract individuals for terroristic operations, in the West, we are assisting a group of ‘friends’, or single subject, who in one way or another, radicalize and become fascinated to jihadist ideology. The clear majority of jihadist ideology sympathizers have Facebook profiles where they post images and videos of Bin Laden, Al-Baghdadi, Haullaki, Isis, Al Qaeda, and whatever it it’s jihadist propaganda, bringing every day the attention of intelligence and anti-terrorism forces.
In this challenge Europe and United States have much to learn from Israel…