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Thread: Foreign fighters in Iraq & Syria

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Foreign fighters in Iraq & Syria

    Fighting abroad is a constant issue, currently given much hype in the media due to the numbers reported in Syria. Thanks to a "lurker" for the pointer to an article by a "radical" with a militant background, one Moazzam Begg, who offers an explanation as to their motivation and whether they are a threat upon returning home:http://www.cageprisoners.com/our-wor...-war-on-terror

    The received wisdom that has led politicians and policemen to reach this conclusion reads something like this: Muslims going to fight in Syria are probably already extremists but even if they’re not, they will be by the time they return radicalised and traumatised from what they have witnessed and experienced. Viz, coupled with extremist ideological beliefs and operational experience they pose an existential threat to the national security of Britain.

    Since the groups that attract foreign fighters in Syria have varying affiliations to Al-Qaeda and its beliefs, the reasoning continues, it is safe to assume that young men and women enlisted into the ranks of these organisations are all potential terrorists.

    (Later) It is not hard, however, to understand why Muslims would want to go out to Syria to help. Scores of them go every month on humanitarian aid missions and face endless questioning at ports by British police under schedule 7 anti-terrorism powers. It is also understandable why people want to go out and fight for what they believe is a just cause, even if the wisdom of them doing so can be questioned.
    There is a main thread 'Today's Wild Geese: Foreign Fighters in the GWOT', which started in 2005, with 83 posts and 43k views:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=14841

    It may not be easy reading, it is worth reading IMHO.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    It is a rather long article which discusses important points and has some interesting links. I think it is an important topic and deserves attention and it is important to keep the basics in mind.

    1) If I go into foreign country to fight on my own initiative without being part of my states armed forces I put myself into a pool of other people. Now if those people are mostly fighting for quite brutal groups, partly with connections to groups who did sponsor terrorism (in Western countries) and share the aim to create a (strict) islamistic state base on (strict) islamistic principles. A stay itself can result in disillusion of Islamic ideas or initiate radicalization, enable me to establish links within a wider social group of radicals.

    Even if I have no longer such ideals and behaved as nicely one can in such a war, what the state services can have a hard time to know, I have tagged myself with a lot of markers. All those markers give me a profile which forces the services to employ ressourcs to monitor and check me. It is profiling on excellent grounds.

    2) So if it is wise to check, question and monitor me how should the state do it and how should he act from a legal point of view?

    As discussed in other topics the persons who have been there have marked themselves and are likely to leave lots of tracable traces and should thus be relatively easy to monitor in a number of ways.

    This doesn't mean of course that anyone coming back from Syria after a longer period of time should be quickly thrown into a prison due to special laws and harsh applications. It all depends on the specific cases and the evidence for and against them. In more then a few cases it might indeed be wise and in the public interest to strip them with due process of their citizienship.
    Last edited by Firn; 01-29-2014 at 07:46 PM.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

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    International Centre for Counterterrorism - The Hague: Dealing with European Foreign Fighters in Syria: Governance Challenges & Legal Implications, December 2013.
    The number of European foreign fighters with a jihadist political agenda participating in the Syrian civil war has increased exponentially over the past months and has become an ever-growing concern for European policymakers. It is particularly the possibility that returned foreign fighters have radicalised that makes them a potential threat – if only to themselves and their direct surroundings. In this ICCT Research Paper, Edwin Bakker, Christophe Paulussen and Eva Entenmann examine some of the challenges, as well as possible strategies and legal mechanisms available for European policymakers to address the foreign fighters phenomenon. It first assesses the complex threat (potentially) posed by returning mujahidin to Europe’s security. The Paper then outlines some of the risk assessment and governance challenges that European policymakers, governments and legal practitioners face in relation to (potential) foreign jihadi fighters and returnees. Prosecution via international crimes will be analysed before turning to specific national practices. Here, the Paper focuses on a few European states that have a considerable number of departing foreign fighters as estimated by their own intelligence services: Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and the UK. The Paper concludes with a series of recommendations.

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    Default Indonesians and the syrian conflict

    http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...9&postcount=10

    I posted this under terrorism trends in SE Asia, but this paper gives a very good explanation on why foreign fighters are flocking to Syria.

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Jedburgh & Bill,

    Thank you for those pointers to in-depth documents.

    I had forgotten how much of the Jihadist appeal relies on legends. Solidarity is a powerful factor.

    The Israeli think tank, Terrorism Information Centre, has a lengthy paper, with individual bios: 'Foreign fighters from Western countries in the ranks of the rebel organizations affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the global jihad in Syria', which is a useful compliment to your two links.

    Link:http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/Dat..._409304481.pdf
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 02-04-2014 at 10:51 PM.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A (not) straight forward UK policy on FF

    Two different commentaries, both are British. First The Guardian's columnist George Monbiot, the headline and sub-title:
    Orwell was hailed a hero for fighting in Spain. Today he'd be guilty of terrorism

    The International Brigades are acclaimed for bravery. But British citizens who fight in Syria are damned. If only they did it for the money
    He opens with:
    If George Orwell and Laurie Lee were to return from the Spanish civil war today, they would be arrested under section five of the Terrorism Act 2006. If convicted of fighting abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive" – a charge they would find hard to contest – they would face a maximum sentence of life in prison. That they were fighting to defend an elected government against a fascist rebellion would have no bearing on the case. They would go down as terrorists.
    Link:http://www.theguardian.com/commentis...MCNEWEML6619I2

    The contortions the UK government are embarking on are well made. One wonders if anyone who goes to fight for Bashir Assad will be targeted?

    Then from a different point of view, Shiraz Maher of ICSR, in The Daily Telegraph and his final passages are:
    Mr Maher said that many British jihadists denied any plan to return.

    “They are often very explicit in saying they want to live in a Muslim land and they want to fight Assad and carry on doing this to build an Islamic state in Syria. They say the idea of coming back to the UK to work in Primark or whatever is ridiculous.”

    However, Mr Maher highlighted a contradiction: if the fighters have no plan to return, they would have no reason to hide their identities.

    “I ask them ‘why won’t you tell me who you are?’ And the answer often is ‘don’t be stupid, we might have to come back one day’.”
    Link:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worl...-in-Syria.html
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    The first apparently confirmed British national responsible for a suicide VBIED attack in Syria has led to a variety of media reports alongside police action, searching his last home. Missing from most accounts is that the VBIED attack on Aleppo's Central Prison was a failure and killed a watching commander.

    Raffaello Pantucci, RUSI's CT Analyst, has a short YouTube interview (3 mins):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WySmw...ature=youtu.be and a longer RUSI Commentary, which reviews that status of the "breeding ground" for such fighters:http://www.rusi.org/analysis/comment.../#.Uv5gZWJ_vk9
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Double Standard

    I was thinking the same thing about the Spanish war. Sadly, it is not a matter of wanting to go to a foriegn country and help, it is a matter of who you are going to help. I know that seems obvious, but in a democracy, it should not matter who you are going to help or why you are going to help ... as long as it is happening outside Great Britain or America.
    "I can change almost anything ... but I can't change human nature."

    Jon Osterman/Dr. Manhattan
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    I was thinking the same thing about the Spanish war. Sadly, it is not a matter of wanting to go to a foriegn country and help, it is a matter of who you are going to help. I know that seems obvious, but in a democracy, it should not matter who you are going to help or why you are going to help ... as long as it is happening outside Great Britain or America.
    If you are going to do it, you need to have discretion and be willing to face the consequences. "Aiding and abetting the enemy" is easy for the US gov to pursue if they aren't all too sure who the enemy is in the first place

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Anyone who voluteers to go fight in someone else's war for anything other than significant money is an "extremist." After all, what could be more extreme behavior?

    But to assume these people are radicalized, or proponents for some extreme perspective on Islam is an assumption without basis in logic or fact. Most probably believe in the principle of self-determination; and where legal democracy is either illegal or ineffective, then only "illegal democracy" remains. Insurgency only differs from democracy by legality. This is civil disobedience taken to the extremes because taking it to the extremes is the only viable option for change.

    One need not agree, but one should respect those who answer that call. Even if one's mission is to stop them from succeeding.
    Robert C. Jones
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    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bob's World View Post
    Anyone who voluteers to go fight in someone else's war for anything other than significant money is an "extremist." After all, what could be more extreme behavior?

    But to assume these people are radicalized, or proponents for some extreme perspective on Islam is an assumption without basis in logic or fact. Most probably believe in the principle of self-determination; and where legal democracy is either illegal or ineffective, then only "illegal democracy" remains. Insurgency only differs from democracy by legality. This is civil disobedience taken to the extremes because taking it to the extremes is the only viable option for change.

    One need not agree, but one should respect those who answer that call. Even if one's mission is to stop them from succeeding.
    That"s nonsense. The foreigners who volunteer to fight for ISIS are fighting for the imposition of a radical Islamist state and they plainly state that. They do not "probably believe in the principle of self-determination", they certainly do believe in the imposition of Jihadist police state.

    Geesh, talking about putting lipstick on a pig.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member Bob's World's Avatar
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    Carl, actually it is you espousing ideological nonsense. I tolerate your binded shots in my general direction, and I realize many are equally as ideolgogically blinded as yourself and agree in large part with your baseless positions. That does not make those positions correct.

    In many ways you are a microcosm of post Cold War US national security strategy, becoming increasingly ideological ourselves to the point where we perceive ourselves to be existentially threatened merely because some other ideolog believes differently.

    Personally I am cautious of all ideologs, regardless of their espoused creed. I prefer those who think, seek to understand, and then speak or act; over those who memorize, recite and perform.

    These are political struggles. When one loses sight of that reality and over-focuses on "the lipstick" (to borrow your phrase) one forgets its all about the pig. And that pig is politics; and the political competition is driven by fundamental human nature, not fundamentalist ideology. Those denied legal redress will take illegal redress. It is what humans have always done and will always do.
    Robert C. Jones
    Intellectus Supra Scientia
    (Understanding is more important than Knowledge)

    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    Council Member carl's Avatar
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    Bob Jones:

    I am pleased to have conferred upon me the status of microcosm. I will do my best to bring honor upon this position and will strive to leave it in a better state than I found it.

    Now, back to business.

    You made a blanket statement about the motives of foreign fighters in Syria and you speculated that "Most probably believe in the principle of self-determination...". That is patently untrue in the case of foreign volunteers for the ISIS. They do not in any way believe in the the principle of self-determination. They are fighting for something so far removed from that that to state that "Most probably believe in the principle of self-determination" is...nonsense.

    Obviously these are political struggles. And one of the political goals some of the contestants are fighting for is the establishment of a Jihadist police state. That is what the takfiri killers are fighting for. Because it is based on twisted theological principles does not make it any less a political position. Not to recognize that is, in my microcosmic view, being blind to something the takfiri killers are very forthright about.
    "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again." Gen. Nathanael Greene

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Part of the problem today is looking at the 'foreign fighters' (FF) issue through Syrian "lens" and not considering the history.

    Bob's World stated:
    Anyone who volunteers to go fight in someone else's war for anything other than significant money is an "extremist." After all, what could be more extreme behavior?
    History has plenty of examples of FF participating in the "good fight" and allowing for the cause to be truly foreign. So I have excluded the French aid to your War of Independence and that rendered to Texas against Mexican rule.

    How about the pilots who came to aid Great Britain in WW2 (WW1 too IIRC) and the unofficial mission to China, Chenault's Tigers?
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member Firn's Avatar
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    As written before there are good reasons why one should be careful to keep the legal and the intelligence issue distinct:

    1) It would be criminal not to monitor their activities closely because their decision and their stay proves that they are much more likely to use violence to achieve their political goals compared to a control group. That does of course require ressources but likely a lot less then reaction 2.

    2) Creating now harsh laws to throw them quickly into prison for a considerable amount of time is not only problematic from a legal point I guess but requires a lot of ressources for a long time.

    Generally I'm not surprised that the British gov has used an additionally path in many cases, stripping holders of two passports of their British one. Once again it seems to me that this raises legal questions but can be a 'cheap' solution for the respective group.
    Last edited by Firn; 02-20-2014 at 01:42 PM.
    ... "We need officers capable of following systematically the path of logical argument to its conclusion, with disciplined intellect, strong in character and nerve to execute what the intellect dictates"

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    Speech at the Kriegsakademie, 1935

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default The fighters are coming home?

    Not a development that anyone anticipated. A short US article:http://www.buzzfeed.com/mikegiglio/s...ere-do-they-go

    Facing a sudden backlash in Syria, some foreign fighters are now doing just that — dropping their weapons and fleeing the war — according to rebels, activists and analysts tracking the conflict.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default A twist to the usual reporting

    A serving Australian soldier has been killed fighting with rebels in Syria.

    The ABC has been told that the man was an infantry soldier who was still a member of the Australian Defence Force when he travelled to Syria to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.....However, it is understood that he died two months ago....But the Australian is believed to be the first serving member of a Western army to be killed while fighting with the rebels.
    Link:http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-1...-syria/5329184
    davidbfpo

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    Raffaello Pantucci has a medium length commentary, with a Syrian focus, as the title suggests 'Foreign fighters – Battle-hardened Europeans return from Syria':http://raffaellopantucci.com/2014/01...rn-from-syria/

    He concludes:
    Rising numbers of European citizens travelling to fight for Islamist groups in the Syrian civil war increase the domestic terrorism threat as they return home.

    European fighters in Syria are from a diverse range of nationalities and ethnicities, with the domestic threat seemingly most elevated in the Balkans, Belgium, and the United Kingdom.

    The risk of domestic militant attacks in European countries will rise further should Syria’s civil war continue.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Criminals and Terrorists do mix

    A RUSI analysis 'Thick As Thieves: European Criminals Take to Syria’s Battlefield' by Rafaello Pantucci, raises an issue we should discuss.

    His sub-title is:
    Individuals with known criminal histories are a surprisingly common feature of the current Syrian battlefield. While their motives may be a combination of redemption and opportunism, returnees in this mode pose a complicated threat picture for security services to process if they return.
    He ends with:
    The terror-crime nexus is not a new one. People with criminal pasts are often drawn to extremist ideologies as a way of atoning for past sins, though often they donot leave their pasts completely behind. But the high instance of people going to Syria with criminal pasts of every sort adds a further worrying dimension to the phenomenon of foreign fighters going to Syria.
    Link:https://www.rusi.org/analysis/commen.../#.Uzlj0ahdXk_

    Much of the SWC discussion around 'foreign fighters' currently is on another thread 'Foreign fighters in Syria: a crime minus a motive?', but IIRC we have not debated this issue before. I do concede reference has been made in virtually all regional conflicts to crime and terrorism, not in the context of 'foreign fighters' returning home in the West.

    In the UK context it has been very clear that there is little relationship between criminal activity, criminals and organised crime with domestic Jihadi terrorism. 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland were and are quite different, on both sides it was very hard to see any distinction, especially when it came to money raising.
    davidbfpo

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    Council Member AdamG's Avatar
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    Dual post from the MidEast thread on Syria.

    Terrorists who shuttle back and forth to fight in Syria may pose the next big threat to the West, according to U.S., European and Russian intelligence officials.

    Intelligence professionals tell NBC News that Islamic militants act almost like vacationers as they travel back and forth to the world’s most active conflict zone, where they are being trained to conduct attacks both inside and outside the war-torn country.
    http://www.nbcnews.com/news/investig...t-syria-n72371
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