American and European Foreign Fighters: Assessing and Comparing the Threat

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Authorities in both Europe and North America have been concerned by the unprecedented number of their citizens and residents who have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and, to a lesser degree, other militant groups. The number of Europeans believed to have made the journey is estimated to be as high as 5000, with peaks in France (around 1000) and smaller countries like Belgium (more than 400). The numbers in the United States are significantly smaller; according to the FBI, some 200 Americans have tried to join ISIS and only a few dozen have been successful. Moreover, individuals inspired by ISIS have carried out several attacks on both sides of the Atlantic.

What factors explain the size of this mobilization? What profiles do foreign fighters have? What motivates them? Do they pose a danger when they return and, if so, how? What policies have Western governments implemented to stem the flow of aspiring foreign fighters and deal with returnees?

In order to discuss these matters the Program on Extremism at George Washington University's Center for Cyber & Homeland Security (CCHS) has convened a panel of top experts that includes:

Dr. Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King's College London and visiting professor at Georgetown University

Dr. Fernando Reinares, senior analyst at the Real Instituto Elcano in Madrid and adjunct professor at Georgetown University

Dr. Lorenzo Vidino, director of the Program on Extremism, Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, George Washington University

Moderated by:
Frank Cilluffo, director of the Center for Cyber & Homeland Security, George Washington University