Putting off the decision of what to do with returnees has, so far, been the most conspicuous attitude of the Portuguese government and of national security authorities when questioned about the plan to deal with the repatriation and return of relatives of Portuguese jihadists detained in Syria, in the wake of the collapse of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Lisbon, just like most other European countries, has delayed for much too long the issue of dealing with its citizens who joined the Islamic State group.
The conflicts in Syria and Iraq have attracted over 40,000 foreign fighters, who have travelled to these countries to join the ranks of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and other armed groups.
The future of the engine of Europe, Germany, will depend largely on who drives it. Frau Merkel’s successor at the head of the CDU will have a major impact on Europe as a whole.
“I’m neither a dove nor a hawk. My ambition is to be this owl that’s often associated with a little bit of wisdom”. This is what the new President of the ECB says about herself.
While most think tankers and Policy makers are concentrating on how the Balkan EU accession process can be kept alive, they are missing a far more fundamental, if less sexy, topic: depopulation.
The challenge of returning foreign fighters affects the whole of Europe. France adopted a clear-cut unofficial policy of outsourcing, asking Iraq to prosecute French fighters to keep them away from Europe. In fact, the issue of returnees cannot be swept under the carpet and needs a proper strategy that combines prosecution and de-radicalization.
“Would you like some nice ISIS fighters?”, US president Donald Trump asked French president Emmanuel Macron on the sidelines of the NATO leaders meeting in London this month. “I can give them to you”. Macron didn´t think it was funny. “Come on, let’s be serious”, he replied. The awkward exchange between the two leaders was emblematic of the wider question at hand; should countries take back their foreign terrorist fighters? And if so, what would that mean for their national security?
For a few years, the return of experienced jihadi fighters from the Levant was perceived as the main threat to Belgium. With hindsight, the 2016 Brussels attacks were the last operation prepared and staged by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Europe, involving returnees. With the disintegration of IS’s caliphate, the threat posed by the group has evolved significantly. Returnees are no longer the sole – or even main – concern of security services.
The conflict in Syria and Iraq has left a strong mark on jihadist milieus throughout Europe. This impact has been particularly striking in Finland. The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (Supo) has estimated that over 80 adults and about 30 minors have left from Finland to the conflict zone. While the size of the Finnish mobilisation is relatively small compared to many countries in the region, this is a high number for a country of 5.5 million inhabitants which has a small muslim population and no significant history of jihadist activism.