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Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq: understand the root causes before devising policy responses

The Political Affairs Committee has expressed grave concern about the problem of foreign fighters who travel to Syria and Iraq to join “IS” and other violent extremist groups and then commit attacks both against European citizens and against the local population of the countries where they go to join the “jihad”.

The report by Dirk Van der Maelen (Belgium, SOC) adopted by the committee today in Brussels indicates that over 30 000 such foreign fighters are believed to have infiltrated Syria and Iraq, including approximately 4 000 residents or nationals of Western European countries, with the largest numbers coming from France, the United Kingdom and Germany, and the countries most affected relative to population size being Belgium, Denmark and Sweden.

While being concerned about the scale of the phenomenon and its potential threat to international security, the committee believes that it is essential to “deepen the understanding of its root causes and devise appropriate policy responses to address them”.

In this connection, the text adopted looks at the many factors which can lead to the radicalisation of individuals, whether of a personal, ideological or religious nature: search for identity/belonging/meaning, disappointment with social conditions, lack of prospects, feeling of being lost, outrage at the situation in the Middle East.

As regards responses, the committee believes that the problem cannot be considered “solely from a counter-terrorism perspective”; a security-oriented, repressive approach is not enough. More emphasis needs to be put on prevention, deradicalisation and reintegration policies which may yield long-term results, said the parliamentarians.

The committee also called for enhanced international co-operation between national and local authorities and specialised agencies with a view to exchanging relevant information, experiences and good practice, while avoiding overlap.

Lastly, the committee underlined that the Council of Europe had been the first international organisation to draw up a regional legal instrument to implement the provisions of UN Resolution 2178 by adopting an additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism. The parliamentarians also welcomed the adoption by the Committee of Ministers of the Action Plan on the fight against violent extremism and radicalisation leading to terrorism, for 2015-2017.

Before adopting Mr Van der Maelen’s report, the committee held an exchange of views with Gilles de Kerchove, EU Counter-Terrorism Co-ordinator.

The report will be debated at the PACE’s next plenary session (25-29 January 2016).