The Global Center hosted a discussion on the challenges posed by foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs), and the responses by national actors, international organizations, and civil society that can help address the challenge. Speakers included Richard Barrett (Senior Vice President for Special Projects, The Soufan Group), Haris Tarin (Washington DC Office Director, Muslim Public Affairs Council), Omar Ababneh (Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Jordan to the United Nations), and Joshua Black (Head of Sanctions and Counterterrorism, United States Mission to the United Nations). An introduction was provided by Alistair Millar (Founder and Executive Director, Global Center) and the panel was moderated by Naureen Chowdhury Fink (Head of Research and Analysis, Global Center).
The discussion opened with an overview of the qualitative changes that have set this wave of FTFs apart from previous waves. This includes the number of foreign fighters, estimated at 12,000 – 15,000, which represents more than in the total years of the Afghan jihad; the decreasing age of foreign fighters to the late teens rather than early 20s; and the catalyzing power of the internet and social media). In response, the increasing need for rehabilitation, reintegration, and monitoring was highlighted, as was the value of offering support to those returnees disillusioned with the fights and may serve to counter the glamorizing narratives propagated by extremists groups. Reflecting the concerns of international governments on the scale and potential threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters, the new resolution that was proposed by the U.S. Mission to the UN consists of 4 key elements that outline a strategic approach focused on prevention and response: criminalization of travel to commit terrorist acts, international cooperation, countering violent extremism (CVE), and the role of the UN. The new resolution is also notable for its emphasis on CVE engagement with civil society, however during the discussion it was noted that independence from government in such efforts, as well as the importance of addressing community grievances beyond security, are crucial parts of the CVE effort. While international action is key, panelists also offered reflections on national initiatives. In Jordan for example, an approach was outlined that included efforts by ministries focused on religion, education, and public security to enhance outreach efforts to students, engage faith leaders for intra and inter-faith dialogue, and work with ex-members of extremist groups to dispel illusions about participating in extremism, etc.