Flow of western female terrorists increased since 2016: UN report



Sun, 06 Aug 2017 - 05:45 GMT


Sun, 06 Aug 2017 - 05:45 GMT

Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) - Photo Credit UN.

Jean-Paul Laborde, Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate (CTED) - Photo Credit UN.

CAIRO – 6 August 2017: The flow of female terrorist fighters to Syria, especially from Western countries has increased since early 2016, while the flow of men has declined, according to a report published by the United Nations Office for Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) on Thursday. Furthermore, it shows that empathy is one of the most common reasons for foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) travelling to Syria.

Understanding FTFs demographics - Photo credit UN

Key Facts on FTFs - UN assessment May 2016 - Photo credit UN

The “Enhancing the Understanding of the Foreign Terrorist Fighters Phenomenon in Syria,” report, spots light on a global phenomenon that represents one of the gravest current threats to national, regional and international security, the foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) who left Syria and returned to their countries of origin, according to the report.

Global Recommendations on FTFs, May 2016 - Photo credit UN

In 2016, the International Center of Counter Terrorism (ICCT) estimated that the percentage of FTFs who travelled to Syria, the number of those who have attempted to go, but have not succeeded, and the number of returnees amounts to 35 percent of the total number of fighters. It adds that over 25,000 foreigners had gone to fight in Syria between the start of the civil war in 2011 and September 2016.

The findings of the report were generated based on interviews with 43 fighters from 12 nationalities in seven countries between August 2015 and November 2016.The report shows that 77 percent of the interviewees reached Syria but subsequently decided to leave, while the remaining 23 percent began the journey to Syria but were stopped en route. Two interviewees are of Syrian origin, but they were not living in Syria when interviewed.

As the UNOCT report aims to provide insights into motivations of FTFs to leave their countries and join armed groups in Syria, it warns against generalizations as there is no single profile for FTFs. The report findings highlight that most of those interviewed were neither well educated nor well off economically, which contradicts with the general perceptions that FTFs are better educated and better off economically than their peers as they come from Western Societies.

The report explained that despite the small size of interviewed sample, it represented a useful tool for states to understand the phenomenon of FTFs and therefore develop more effective policies and programs to facilitate the reintegration of returnees. The report stated that “the study calls for and suggests action at the national, regional, and international levels based on a comprehensive and balanced approach that puts more emphasis on prevention than has been common until now.”

Furthermore, the report says “While the risk presented by returning FTFs is a real one, it should not be exaggerated.” A practical, effective and proportionate response should start from a sound understanding of the root causes of the problem.

What is a FTF?

Recognizing the increasing threat by FTFs as part of the emerging issues, trends and developments related to terrorism, the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2178 (2014) to define what is a FTF and to emphasize that terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality or civilization.

The UNSSCR 2017 reads, “foreign terrorist fighters are individuals who travel to a state other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training, including in connection with armed conflict, and resolving to address this threat.”

The UNSC resolution raises concerns on threats posed by FTFs pose to their states of origin, the states they transit, the states to which they travel, neighboring states of their destination state, and even countries far from conflict zones as FTFs use their extremist ideology to promote terrorism. In addition, the resolution expresses concern regarding the established international terrorist networks by FTFs to channel support to terrorist groups in various states. It expresses particular concern of FTFs joining the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Al-Nusrah Front (ANF) and other groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Summary of report findings on FTF:

1. FTF background:

 Half of the interviewed FTF were married by the time they went to Syria, with or without children of their own.

 A significant percentage of interviewees come from large families often with a history of domestic violence, single parenthood or other family problems.

 Most of them come from poor urban areas or areas removed from the main centers of commercial activity, where youth have low educational levels, poor job prospects, little hope for change, and limited opportunity for social or economic mobility.

FTFs Age Chart - CC UNOCT

Marital Status - CC UNOCT

FTFs level of Education - CC UNOCT

FTFs Level of Income before Travelling to Syria - CC UNOCT

2. Recruitment:

 A “personal” factor plays a vital role in persuading individuals and is the hardest factor to discover. It explains how an individual can become an FTF, while his sibling chooses to remain home despite being exposed to the same environment and conditions contributing to extremism.

FTFs Self-Motivation - CC UNOCT

 Friendship circles and social networks such as mosques, prisons, schools, universities or workplaces are the most dynamic mechanism for recruitment. The internet plays less significant recruitment role than is generally assumed.

Friends Influence

The Role of Internet in Recruiting FTFs - CC UNOCT

 Religious belief played a minimal role in the motivation of the interviewed FTF sample.
 Unresolved conflicts that include inter-communal violence are one of the strongest magnets for FTFs.

3. Upon arrival:

 FTFs often do not select the group they finally join in Syria; they seem to join the group that operates closest to their point of arrival.

 FTFs switch between armed groups during their stay in Syria.

4. The push factors:

Bad governance, especially disregard for the rule of law, discriminatory social policies, political exclusion of certain communities, inadequate courts, corruption; particularly in the distribution of state benefits, harassment by the security authorities, and confiscation of passports or other identity documents, all contribute to feelings of despair, resentment, and animosity towards the government and provide fertile ground for the terrorist recruiter, especially when the vision of a new life is presented as almost effortlessly attainable.

5. The pull factors:

 Empathy and desire to help a perceived suffering group from violence and aggression in a conflict zone where they are planning to join fighting, generates a sense of obligation among possible FTFs.

6. Decision to return home before achieving their set goals:

 Armed groups in Syria provide no positive outcomes to the youth they recruit, according to the report. They hardly deliver on any of their promises, except the promise of death and destruction, both for its recruits and for the Muslim communities it claims to defend.

“It is this failure to deliver, coupled with its extreme, violent ideology and brutal tactics, its in-fighting and the corruption of some of its leaders, that, according to this survey, most often gives rise to the disappointment and sense of disenfranchisement and exclusion that leads foreign terrorist fighters to defect,” the report says.
One of the interviewees said “I went to Syria to see whether the promises ISIS talks about are actually true.

But they are not true. ISIS does not give what they promise. There is no salary, no house, no furniture, and no jobs even. This is why I decided to leave.”

 Social networks influence on FTFs decision to return home is less evident. Instead, it is the family network; particularly mothers that exert the most influential pressure on FTFs to return home once the FTFs disappointment has begun to kick in.

In September 2014, during the fourth biennial review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Member States expressed concern at the growing phenomenon of FTFs in Syria. As a result, the Secretary-General announced that the UNCCT would gather information on the motivation of FTFs through direct interviews with returnees.

On Sunday, the French Minister of Interior, said in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, that France has seen 271 jihadi militants return from war zones in Iraq and Syria and all of them are subject to investigation. He added that some 700 French nationals are estimated to have fought in Islamic State ranks in Iraq and Syria, and like other European countries, France has been wrestling with how to handle the flow of so-called returnees, according to Reuters.



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