West Struggles to Halt Flow of Citizens to War Zones

Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, January 12, 2015

For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries, increasing surveillance of those who have expressed an interest in joining extremists, creating computer programs to track suspicious travel patterns and taking other measures.

But last week’s commando-style raids in France–carried out by at least one man who traveled to Yemen in 2011 to train alongside the Qaeda affiliate there–were deadly reminders that those measures have done relatively little to reduce the threat. The number of people traveling abroad to fight continues to grow, with about 1,000 militant recruits joining the fight in Syria and Iraq each month, according to recent United States government figures.

Worried that these returning militants could go for years without drawing attention, American and European counterterrorism officials have been scrambling to come up with new ways to stop their residents from traveling abroad to fight–efforts that have taken on greater urgency in light of the killings in France.

New or amended counterterrorism laws have been passed in countries like Albania, Australia, Bosnia, France, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia, making it illegal to travel to fight in a foreign conflict, like the ones in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.


The United States seized on the issue last September and successfully pushed through a legally binding resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would compel all countries to take steps to “prevent and suppress” the flow of their citizens to groups considered to be terrorist organizations.

A particular focus has been on countries like Turkey, whose porous 500-mile border has allowed thousands of militants to cross into the Syrian battlefield and into Iraq. In 2013, Turkey denied entry to 4,000 people who had been on a no-entry list and detained more than 92,000 people on its border.


Altogether, about 18,000 foreign combatants, including 3,000 Europeans and other Westerners, have traveled to fight in the region since the Syria conflict erupted in 2011, according to American intelligence estimates. More than 500 veterans of the Syria campaign have returned to Europe, according to Richard Barrett, a former British intelligence officer who has researched the figures for the Soufan Group, a security consultancy.

In the United States, where about 150 people have tried or actually gone to fight in Syria, federal law enforcement officials have focused not only on monitoring social media networks more aggressively, but also on educating state and local authorities about ways to identify potential travelers.


Islamic militants have gone to fight in foreign wars dating to the mujahedeen who traveled to Afghanistan in the 1980s to fight the Soviet Army there.

What is different today, terrorism experts said, is the scale of the flow and the various reasons young Muslim men, and increasingly women and families, are flocking to Syria. Young men in Bosnia and Kosovo are traveling to Syria for financial gain, including recruiting bonuses some groups offer, counterterrorism specialists say. Others from the Middle East and North Africa are attracted more by the ideology and the Islamic State’s self-declared status as a caliphate. Counterterrorism specialists have seen criminal gang members from as far as Sweden seeking adventure and violence in the fight.

Fears that former fighters may carry out attacks in their native countries have been intense since Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French Muslim, killed four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum last May after spending a year in Syria. The French authorities knew he had gone to fight in Syria and had been told by German officials that he had returned to Europe.

France, with about five million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, has seen a growing number of calls for citizens to turn to jihad. More than 1,000 French citizens have left or plan to leave France to join the ranks of jihadist groups in Syria or Iraq, according to the French Interior Ministry. Mr. Barrett, the former intelligence officer, said perhaps 180 of them had returned.

“We don’t know when these radical people are going suddenly to become terrorists,” Gerard Araud, France’s ambassador to the United States, said on Sunday.

In Britain, about half of the 600 people who have traveled to Syria to engage in terrorist-related activities have returned home, according to the authorities. “Working with our partners, we have stopped three U.K. terrorist plots in recent months alone,” Andrew Parker, the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, said in a rare public speech last week.


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  • David Ashton

    “We” send some of their warriors, and in return we “get” many of their war refugees. It’s a mad, mad, mad world,

    • JohnEngelman

      Everywhere those people go they bring with them the social pathologies they are escaping from in societies they have created.

      • David Ashton

        Enough of them do, at any rate.

      • As someone wrote on this site several days ago, the phenomenon closely resembles an alcoholic moving to get away from booze.

  • propagandaoftruth

    Nothing sensible nor effective will be done by governments as long as governments are dominated by treacherous crypto-Marxists, supported by messianic, democratic totalitarians.
    The indigenous Folk of Europe, as well as their descendants in Magna Europa, must organize and prepare to defend themselves and their heritage without expectation of anything but hostility from their own governments.

  • Reynardine

    Somehow they’re not terrorists when they’re here, but when they go abroad they suddenly become threats to national security?

    Just another excuse to curtail the movement rights of law-abiding citizens.

  • Easyrhino

    “West Struggles to Halt Flow of Citizens to War Zones”

    Does this include dual citizens such as Rahm Emanuel who volunteered and served with the IDF?

    • evilsandmich

      Exactly. If they go abroad to be a foreign fighter and their passport should be automatically invalidated.

    • Dual nationals find themselves in a funny position, depending on the countries involved. One of my old friends had been an ordnance officer in the Swiss army. A dual Swiss-US national when I knew him, he had to travel back to Switzerland periodically for reserve duty and refresher training.

      Some countries do not recognize the right of their nationals to renounce their citizenship. I think France and Brazil are two of these.

  • MekongDelta69

    Don’t EVER let them come back.

    Don’t EVER let them in, in the first place..

    • IstvanIN

      That would be the most sensible solution but, alas, the so-called liberals want to bring them back, try to understand them, reform them and return them to society. Nit wits.

      • archer

        Trying to reform them has nothing to do with it, they need them to keep the police state growing and to further destroy western society.

  • The United States seized on the issue last September and successfully pushed through a legally binding resolution at the United Nations Security Council that would compel all countries to take steps to “prevent and suppress” the flow of their citizens to groups considered to be terrorist organizations.

    Wow, a UN resolution. Why not include a hashtag along with it?

  • Dwight

    They should be encouraged to go and fight for Islam. The governments should spare no expence at enticing them to leave. Then slam the door shut behind Abu and Omar with no way to return. That’s a start on getting these people out. They were designed to live in the desert not the lush forests of Europe.

    • Fletch


    • evilsandmich

      Heck even the Saudis do that: encourage the young fanatics to go run at American machine gun nests, or crowd them all into a house in Yemen or Pakistan and then pass the coordinates along to the American drone patrol.

  • MBlanc46

    Once we let them in, it’s difficult to control them. That’s all the more reason to keep them out in the first place.

    • See The Future

      Problem is still bringing them in by the plane load.

      • MBlanc46

        It is. If we don’t find a way to stop it soon, Western civilization is doomed.

  • dd121

    Why does anybody even think the leftist elites WANT to stop the flow?

  • Capn Dad

    Lots of great ideas expressed here. I see more solutions than fleas on a stray dog. Point is though, not one of them will see fruition with the politicians we have.

    • Sick of it

      Politics is the veneration of the low man and contempt for the superior man.

  • DonReynolds

    Chances are good they will get killed by someone along the way.
    But if they happen to come back……arrest them at the airport and charge them with violating US neutrality. If the US is not neutral in the conflict, then arrest them anyway as an enemy combatant. Either way, if they live long enough they get to go to prison.

    • propagandaoftruth

      Yeah, of course. Let all who want to go, GO!

      And never let any back in ever…

      Throw ’em a party and give ’em a big halal ham as a parting gift.

      • DonReynolds

        Better still, if they survive the war of their choice in the Middle East, let them back in for their necktie party.

  • Bon, From the Land of Babble

    Sounds like a great opportunity for them and a win for us.

    Those who go to Muslim countries and die eliminate themselves permanently from the population of Western countries.

    The ones who survive and return will be asked to be presidential cabinet members.

    Remember, according to Napalitano: The most dangerous terrorists inside the US are White, Christian, pro-Constitution and pro-Second Amendment.

    Also remember when you look at these actual targets, they are considered “no hesitation.”

    • See The Future

      Nancy Pelosi age 74 is about to appoint a muslim to the house intelligence committee. Fits right in doesn’t it.

      • Bon, From the Land of Babble

        Yeah, like Angela Merkel joining a Muslim solidarity march.

      • Robert Smith

        This is what happens when you have “communists” in the State Dept and Hollywood and you act as if they were not there for 50 years.

  • Sick of it

    “making it illegal to travel to fight in a foreign conflict”

    This is all about preventing the rise of white nationalism in any of our respective nations. The authorities obviously do little to nothing to prevent muslim savages from going where they please.

  • JohnEngelman

    For more than a decade, Western governments have struggled to stem the flow of their citizens traveling to fight in war zones in Muslim countries.

    – Eric Schmitt and Michael S. Schmidt, New York Times, January 12, 2015

    These are improperly our citizens. They never should have been allowed to move here.They never should have been naturalized.

    They and their kind contribute nothing of value to our societies. What they do contribute is crime, welfare expense, and acts of terrorism.

  • ThatWhiteGuy

    You could always not let these types in from the beginning, but hey, that’s just too sensible!

    • See The Future

      The ones that are already here the more coming are infinitely more dangerous than the terrorists. They are yours and mine replacements.

  • The Dude

    You know what, some see this as a threat, I pragmatically see this as less extremist Muslims in our midst.

    Keep in mind that the ongoing U.S.-led strikes are killing an average of 40 jihadists a day. A considerable part of them must have come from Western countries. Which means that not all of them will come back even if they wanted to.

    So all in all, I see this as a net gain for us.

  • Who Me?

    “We don’t know when these radical people are going suddenly to become terrorists,”
    That’s easy, you moron. They were terrorists the day they joined the fighting on the other side. The answer is just as easy–don’t let them come back. If they get tired of the fighting, they have to stay in their chosen country and make a life there. Might make a few of them re-think their decision prior to departure.

  • drattastic

    Kick all their muslim arses out of Western countries now and they will be in their homeland where they belong, then who cares what happens to them.

    • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

      Add blacks and other non whites

  • terramare

    The flow will go on as long as the transnational elite is allowed to dominate the foreign policy in US and Europe. The war against Syria is in the tribes interest, not in America’s or Europe’s.

    • It is by no means obvious that the war in Syria is in Israel’s interest. The Assads were at least predictable. A Syria that ISIS has turned into a terrorist sanctuary – if they are successful at this – will be a considerably less pleasant neighbor.

      • See The Future

        Israel is in a no win situation. They are under a constant barrage of attacks that come from anywhere. Why would any Jew in their right mind want to live there? If I were a Jew I would move to America.

        Israel is on a finite time line. It will cease to exist as we know it today.

  • Americaandthewestshouldbewhite

    Just stop these non whites from coming to the west. Period. problem solved.

  • corvinus

    I think taking an “and don’t let the door hitcha where the good Lord splitcha” approach would work out better for all concerned.