By: Patrick Foley
Over half a year ago, the U.N. Security Council tasked a panel of experts with investigating the threat from foreign fighters joining the Islamic State and other militant groups. In early March, when the report was published, people around the world were shocked by the number of new recruits to radical militant groups. In reality, the demographics of those new fighters are much more alarming than their numbers.
The panel estimated that more than twenty-five thousand people have joined the ranks of Al Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State in the past three years. The report cites Turkey as the primary point of transit for these fighters, but clarifies that these fighters have come from more than one hundred countries around the world. According to this report, the flow of foreign supporters to radical militant groups has increased from a few thousand a decade ago to an unprecedented level. The number of foreign fighters worldwide had increased by 71% between the middle of 2014 and March of this year. The news service reports that more than 20,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq, 6,500 to Afghanistan, and hundreds to Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia. There is no ambiguity in the report that in each country these fighters “pose an immediate and long-term [terrorist] threat”
The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in September demanding that all states make it a criminal offense for their citizens to travel abroad to fight along-side militants, or to recruit and fund others to do so. The report called for greater intelligence sharing among nations to help identify foreign fighters, increased support for “evidence-based traveler risk assessment and screen procedures”, strengthened border management and greater cooperation with INTERPOL, calling on States to increase the exchange of information and use of the agency’s foreign terrorist fighter database. The UN also advocated for Member States to improve their ability to identify and work with relevant local community leaders to address radicalization.
Numerous reports from the UN and other research centers have discussed the comparatively high targeting of the disenfranchised youth in the regions in which these groups operate. According to a UN news report from May of this year, in the Middle East alone the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, has also benefited from an influx of 4,000 European young people joining their cause. The mass disaffection of modern youths globally appears to have a common cause, according to the Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization. Director Neumann remarked in April that the foreign fighters joining ISIL were more diverse than any extremist population he had ever seen. Along with the aforementioned diversity in the countries they originate from, for the first time, this “latest wave” of youth radicals included large numbers of women – reaching up to 20 per cent in some countries. As to the unifying motive behind this trend, Director Neumann says “what many, if not most of them, had in common is that they did not feel they had a stake in their societies”. This correlation is especially alarming when considered along-side the UN International Labour Organization’s Global Employment Trends (GET) report which projected global youth unemployment rates would remain on an upward trend through to 2017. The GET report wrote as another dimension of this unemployment rate that half of the world’s population is under 25 years of age, and 87 per cent of those between the ages of 15 and 24 can be found in developing countries. Among the 87%, 600 million youth live in war zones where danger and poverty are an unavoidable part of everyday life.
When the information from these reports is analyzed as a whole, the number of recruits to radial militant groups becomes much less shocking. The mutli-faceted perspective on the issue shows that a country focusing on clamping down on the osmosis of people and ideas is addressing a symptom of a systemic problem. The most effective method to decrease the radicalized percentage of any population is to improve education and employment opportunities while encouraging the political participation of the young people of that nations. From this conclusion it is intuitive that the transnational approach to the threat of radical militant groups should focus on those same goals.