As many as 3,000 foreign fighters from Europe and North America have gone to Syria and Iraq to become soldiers, most often fighting for jihadist groups such as ISIS and Al-Nusra. Western foreign fighters have traveled to conflicts in the Islamic world in the past—in Afghanistan, in Iraq and in Somalia, for example—but never in such numbers. U.S. and European officials have expressed fears that this unprecedented flow of foreign fighters creates a serious threat that some of them will someday return and commit terrorist acts in their country of origin.
On January 12, the Center on the United States and Europe and the Center on Middle East Policy launched a new policy paper by Senior Fellow Daniel Byman and Fellow Jeremy Shapiro that examines the threat that Western foreign fighters pose to their homelands. The paper argues that although the threat of foreign fighters to the West is real, it has also been exaggerated and that Western security services have the knowledge and capacity to deal with the problem.
Following opening remarks, Daniel Benjamin, Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth and former Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department offered comments. Brookings Fellow Will McCants moderated the discussion.