Today the so-called foreign fighters seem to pose a serious threat to the security of countries across the world, including many in Asia.
In July 29, 2018, four Western cyclists were killed in Tajikistan's Danghara district by a group of five men who hit them with a car before stabbing them to death. In a video released after the attack, the five men appear to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, while sitting under a tree in front of the Islamic State flag.
Muslim terrorist organizations in Central, South, and Southeast Asia frequently blur the lines between “jihadist group” and “Muslim separatist movement.” As a result, a spectrum exists from strictly transnational jihadists, to Muslim separatists utilizing jihadist rhetoric and perhaps accepting assistance from transnational jihadist groups, to violent separatist groups that simply happen to identify as Muslim.
Terrorism is becoming a growing concern in Asia: More than 250 people have been reported killed and hundreds more injured after at least seven explosions have hit churches and several hotels in Sri Lanka on April 21, Easter Sunday. Other countries in Asia have been hit in recent years, too, especially after the progressive demise of the Islamic State in the Middle East.
Administrative expulsions for national security reasons have played a growing role in the Italian counter-terrorism strategy. As of October 18th, 2018, there have been 106 deportations on the grounds of extremism in 2018, surpassing last year’s 105 expulsions. The number has been growing since 2015, and their use has become more common. The provision can only be employed against foreign individuals present on Italian territory and once an individual is deported they are issued a prohibition from reentering the country for a period of at least 5 years.
On May 20th, a group of four attacked the Archangel Michael Orthodox Church in the downtown of Grozny, Chechnya’s capital city. The attack came during a mass and killed a churchgoer and two police officers who came to the rescue.
The anti-terrorism operation carried out today in Foggia, Southern Italy, marks an important moment for Italy’s counterterrorism. The raid comes as the culmination of a longer investigation initiated by Bari’s DIGOS (the national police’s special unit, which was monitoring a small, unauthorized place of worship named Al Dawa, located near Foggia’s railway station. Indeed, two recently arrested jihadists — including a former Chechen foreign fighter — were known to have regularly attended the mosque.
Whereas most large European countries have been greatly affected by Islamic State-inspired terrorism, Italy has not seen the same degree of radicalization and extremist activity. With a much smaller number of foreign fighters, no terrorist attacks to date, and less developed terrorist networks, the country has been able to cope with the latest wave of transnational terrorism. With the offensives to crush the Islamic State now winding down, however, authorities fear that returning foreign fighters may generate a new surge in terrorist attacks.