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News 24 Oct 17

250 Islamist Fighters Return to Balkans: Report

Returning Islamic State fighters pose a threat to their countries of origin, including Western Balkan states, says a new report from an NGO dealing with global security issues.

Filip Rudic BIRN Belgrade
Syrian Democratic Forces celebrate the liberation of Raqqa from Islamic State. Photo: Beta 

Of around 900 people from the Western Balkans who have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq, some 250 have returned to their home countries, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Soufan Centre, a US-based NGO dedicated to increasing awareness of global security issues.

The report said that "there is little doubt" that Islamic State will "survive the worldwide campaign against it", and warned of its continuing influence.

"Its appeal will outlast its demise, and while it will be hard to assess the specific threat posed by foreign fighters and returnees, they will present a challenge to many countries for years to come," it said.

According to the report, there are now at least 5,600 foreign fighters from 33 countries who have returned to their home states.

Some jihadis from the Balkans, however, have told BIRN that they returned home because they became disenchanted with the brutality, poverty and oppression.

The Soufan Centre estimates that while returning foreign fighters have not yet added significantly to the threat of terrorism around the world, all returnees will continue to pose some degree of risk, as the number of attacks inspired or directed by Islamic State continues to rise.

Returnee women and children represent a specific problem, as states struggle to understand how best to reintegrate them, according to the report.

Proper mental health and social support mechanisms will be especially relevant in the case of children, the Soufan Centre said.

"States have not found a way to address the problem of returnees. Most are imprisoned, or disappear from view. There will be a need for more research and information sharing to develop effective strategies to assess and address the threat," the report argued.

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