The Jihadist Pipeline
The European Union estimates that 2,000 European citizens have joined jihadist groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Other estimates put the number closer to 5,000. Most are Muslim youths who have fallen prey to recruiters and a romantic vision of the conflict as a holy war. European Union officials and governments are right to be concerned about the long-term security threat posed by battle-hardened combatants returning from Syria. But stemming the flow of would-be jihadists to Syria and dealing with their return will not be easy.
Britain is particularly alarmed. The 2005 terrorist attack in London’s transit system served as a warning of the dangerous potential of radicalized young people. The nation was shocked by a video posted online last month of a British suicide bomber in Syria. Home Secretary Theresa May has argued that Britons fighting alongside jihadists in Syria should be stripped of their citizenship. The minister for immigration and security, James Brokenshire, has said that citizens involved in terrorism-related activities should be brought to justice.
France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, has called the eventual return of combatants “a ticking time bomb.” An estimated 700 French nationals, some quite young, have joined jihadists in Syria. A 15-year-old girl, who had said she was going to join the fighting, telephoned her family in Avignon from the Turkey-Syria border. Dozens of Dutch, German, Norwegian, Swedish and other European citizens are also fighting in Syria. Some may be drawn by Islamist proselytizing on the Internet and through social media, as well as by some imams in mosques. But widespread feelings of social marginalization are a big factor.
Europeans are trying hard to deal with the crisis. In January, 180 experts and representatives gathered in The Hague for the Cities Conference on Foreign Fighters to Syria. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and President François Hollande of France have discussed ways to collaborate more closely.
Police and intelligence agencies cannot solve this problem. As Europe’s Radicalization Awareness Network, a European Commission umbrella group, points out, any solution will need a broad reach, engaging families and communities. Trust is critical to any effort to reach young people and offer alternatives to violence. As Europeans are all too aware, the conflict in Syria, in addition to its other horrors, has left its mark on a generation.
– New York Times