Event report – Egmont: ‘Foreign fighters in the Islamic Caliphate’

On 23 October Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations hosted a conference on ‘Foreign fighters in the Islamic Caliphate: what can the EU do?’ with Gilles de Kerchove, the EU Counter-terrorism Coordinator. A member of the library team was there and live-tweeted highlights. Below some other notes, with hints for further reading from our collections.

Mr de Kerchove structured his intervention in three parts: firstly, he made a general review of extremist Islamic groups (read the brief by EUISS) and the more recent problem of EU nationals going to fight for those groups; he then briefly reviewed the EU competences in this domain; finally, he presented the actions that the EU is taking in response.

Mr de Kerchove mentioned an approximate figure of 3 000 foreign fighters that have joined the Islamic Caliphate – or Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) – and other Islamic groups, and are fighting mainly in Syria. He noted that despite the important institutional changes from the Lisbon Treaty, the area of Justice and Home Affairs is still very much a Member States’ competence. Nevertheless, in recent months  the EU has taken a number of actions to confront the threat represented by (returning) foreign fighters. The CTC mentioned cooperation with Internet companies (Google, YouTube) against extremist propaganda on the Web, and better monitoring of suspect travels; on the strategy to deal with fighters returning to their EU home countries, the CTC noted that responses vary on a case-by-case basis and can range from a reinsertion effort to judicial measures, depending on the gravity of the fighters’ acts.

Some interesting issues were raised in the Q&A. Mr de Kerchove encouraged Member States to learn from best practices in dealing with returned foreign fighters, citing examples from Denmark and France. He explained how money is one of the most important motivations for foreign fighters, and said that private donors mainly from the Gulf countries are behind the financing of ISIS (read the note by think tank CIDOB on the funding of ISIS). He was not surprised that the Jewish community had been recently targeted in various Member States, and called for Member States to be very vigilant on this. Finally he explained how the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice are very concerned about the implications of certain preventive measures, and called for full compliance with human rights legislation when fighting ISIS and tackling the foreign fighters phenomenon.

Background information on the ‘EU fight against terrorism’ can be found on the dedicated webpage of the Council of the European Union.

Writings by Gilles de Kerchove are indexed in our library catalogue. Other recent resources on extremism and Islam from the library catalogue are listed here.

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