A new report released this week by a Washington-based security intelligence group, the Soufan Center, titled, “Beyond the Caliphate: Foreign Fighters and the Threat of Returnees,” revealed that at least 129 Americans have left the country to join ISIS, and only seven have been confirmed to have returned.
Over 40,000 fighters from more than 110 countries have traveled to Iraq and Syria in order to join ISIS militants, the report concludes. Now that the battle against the terrorist group has escalated, and fighters have been driven out of their strongholds, the threat of them returning to their homelands and spreading the terror has increased.
So far, at least 5,600 residents from 33 countries are known to have returned back to their home countries – but that only accounts for about 15 percent of the ones who left.
The following estimates were given of the number of ISIS fighters from various countries, and how many have returned to their homeland. Some are imprisoned, but many have simply disappeared off the radar.
- United States – 129 left – 7 returned
- European Union – 5,000 left – 25 percent returned
- Central Asia – 5,000 left – 10 percent returned
- Britain – 850 left – 425 returned
- Jordan – 3,000 left – 250 returned
- France – 1,910 left – 271 returned
- Morocco – 1,623 left – 198 returned
- Russia – 3,417 left – 400 returned
- Tajikistan – 1,300 left – 147 returned
- Tunisia – 2,926 left – 800 returned
- Uyghurs – 1,200 left – none returned
- Uzbekistan – 1,500 left – none returned
“This is only what we know and what official records report. What about those that are still transiting illegally and freely across borders,” Lee Oughton, security expert and global business development director of international risk management firm, the Abbey Grey Group, observed. “The borders going into the U.S. are seen as porous and could be an ideal spot for returning ISIS fighters to filter undetected back into society.”
Alarmingly, the report notes, beginning in 2015, “there was a marked rise of foreign women and children traveling to, or in the case of children, being born in the Islamic State.” Over 15,000 women and children are verified as being affiliated with ISIS.
Returning women and children represent serious issues, as countries try to reintegrate them back into society. Tony Schiena, CEO of intelligence and security firm MOSIAC, said, “As far as indoctrinated children, they need to be placed in well-monitored de-radicalization and psychological programs and closely monitored until there is very little doubt of potential threat to civilians.”
Another group representing a problem are those who attempted to leave the country to join ISIS but were stopped by authorities. The report states, “The members of this group will pose a particular problem as they had geared themselves up to join the caliphate only to be frustrated. They will have all the fire and enthusiasm of a new recruit but none of the dampening experience of real life and death in the caliphate.”
Ryan Mauro, a national security expert with the Clarion Project, stated, “America does not strip the citizenship of those who join ISIS, so we can’t prevent them from coming home. A lot of these returning ISIS recruits are likely disillusioned with the caliphate, but we must not mistake disappointment with a rejection of jihadist thinking overall.”
The report warns, “Even those returnees who were most disappointed by the behavior and tactics of the overall IS leadership may still have admired individual emirs and still harbor the dream of a pure Islamic state run by rulers committed to the full implementation of Islamic law (sharia). They may still believe that this can only be achieved through violence, and they will have become more accustomed to blood and gore through their experience of fighting with ISIS.”
The following documentary published in July 2016 reported on British women who have left to join ISIS.
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