LONDON: Thousands of ISIS fighters have returned to their home countries amid confusion over the number of foreign jihadis remaining in the dwindling caliphate, a new report has found. According to a research by The Soufan Centre estimated that at least 425 British Isis members have so far returned to the UK – the largest cohort in Europe.
But there are fears many have “disappeared” from the view of security services, who will not publicly confirm how many returnees have been jailed or are being tracked.
Out of countries for which data was available, only Turkey (900), Tunisia (800) and Saudi Arabia (760) had larger numbers of returning foreign fighters, according to the study.
The Independent quoting the research has reported that of the 850 people known to have travelled to warzones in Syria and Iraq from the UK, around 100 are women and 50 are children.
Richard Barrett, the author of the report, said: “As the so-called Islamic State loses territorial control of its caliphate, there is little doubt that the group or something similar will survive the worldwide campaign against it so long as the conditions that promoted its growth remain. “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.”
The newspaper quoted Mr Barrett as saying that former fighters’ attitudes to Isis varied dramatically between those who rejected the group, became disillusioned, or were forced to retreat in battle.
He warned: “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.”
The analyst, who has worked for British security services and the UN’s counter-terrorism branch, said all 5,600 former Isis members who have returned to 33 countries pose some degree of risk. “States have not found a way to address the problem of returnees,” Mr Barrett added. “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.”
Research found that not all Isis fighters may be able or willing to return to their home countries, and may travel instead to the group’s emerging bases in Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and the Philippines.
The Soufan Centre report said that the group “pose a particular problem as they had geared themselves up to join the caliphate only to be frustrated”, leaving them with a blood lust for Isis and increased resentment for authorities.
There is no central list of the number of fanatics prevented from joining Isis abroad, but Turkish authorities had recorded the names of 53,781 individuals from 146 countries feared to be attempting to join the fight in Syria and Iraq by June. Interpol has already collected the names of around 19,000 people confirmed to have joined Isis, partly using the group’s own registration documents.