The terrorist attack on London Bridge and the alleged terrorist attack at Pensacola, Florida (USA), late last year have once again demonstrated that jihadism is not dead. Indeed, despite the downscaling of al-Qaeda and the military defeats of the Islamic State, both groups are still active in waging wars on their “distant enemies” in the West.
The beginning of the Syrian armed conflict marked the start of an unprecedented outflow of foreign fighters from the Western Balkans to the Middle East. As of the end of 2019, about 1,070 nationals of Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Northern Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, and Montenegro had traveled to Syria and Iraq. Although arguably motivated by a variety of reasons, most of them ended up joining jihadist militias and designated terrorist organizations like the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra.
In mid-November 2019 Turkey deported two women suspected of having supported the Islamic State (IS) in Syria to their country of origin: Germany. One of them, 21 year old Nasim A. was arrested immediately after her arrival at Frankfurt airport. According to media reports, she had left Germany in 2014 to join the terrorist organization. She reportedly married one of its fighters. In early 2019 she had been arrested by Kurdish security forces and had spent time in the now notorious prison camp al-Hawl.
That so-called foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) from Switzerland joined Jihadi insurgent groups abroad is a relatively new phenomenon as only a handful of individuals participated in conflicts such as in Afghanistan or Iraq prior to the outbreak of the Syrian War.
For some years following the unleash of internal wars in Mali and Syria, particularly between 2013 and 2016, a considerable amount of the jihadists residing in Spain were more inclined to go and become foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) in a conflict zone, or settle there with no operational aims, than to stay inside the country and engage in terrorism-related activities domestically. This remarkable inclination was neither yet evidenced on 2012 nor observed any longer on 2017.
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.
On December 10, 2019, the southwestern region of Tillabéri, in Niger, was shocked by an act of armed violence against Nigerien military forces. Around 500 heavily-armed men stormed a military camp in In-Atès, about 180 km from the capital Niamey and 20 km from the border with Mali. More than 70 soldiers were killed, dozens injured and many weapons and pieces of equipment stolen.
Now that the “caliphate” has been decapitated, global jihad is ebbing. But from Nigeria to the Philippines, other developments deserve our attention.