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Syria fighters pose ‘inevitable’ terror threat to Europe

Experts warn of likely attacks by foreign fighters after returning from the battlefield in Syria

Published: Updated:

Thousands of foreign fighters in Syria - some of them Europeans - pose an “inevitable” threat as they could wage terror attacks on the continent upon returning home, high-level experts told a UK newspaper.

Raffaello Pantucci, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute security think tank, told The Independent that “it seems almost inevitable that some sort of a threat back to the UK will come off the battlefield in Syria, something supported by the fact that security services in the UK believe they have already disrupted at least one plot with links to Syria.”

Experts warned that many fighters, who are gaining “combat experience and forging connections with extremists,” could return radicalized, seeking to carry out attacks on European soil.

Gilles de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, described the threat as “unprecedented.”

In a warning written in response to an inquiry by the UK’s Home Affairs Select Committee published on Tuesday, de Kerchove said: “All the reports I have seen suggest that it is becoming increasingly acute.”

‘More unpredictable’

The senior official also cautioned that while the “national budgets devoted to counter-terrorism are declining across the EU, the threat that we face is becoming more diverse, more diffuse, and more unpredictable.”

The coordinator highlighted that the danger not only stems from Syria – the threat of returning jihadists from African continent is also of a “particular” concern.

“The terrorism threat is growing and becoming a major obstacle to development,” he said, urging European governments to quell chances of making these places “safe havens” for terrorists.

“We should be investing a lot more in counter-terrorism work, including externally, if we are to prevent or mitigate future terrorist attacks.”

Richard Barrett, former the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, told The Independent that the large number of fighters in Syria means they are “almost impossible to monitor.”

‘Knee-jerk reaction’

However, the former counter-terrorist chief dubbed the measure of arresting individuals on their return from Syria as a “knee-jerk reaction,” warning that heavy-handed treatment by police could radicalize people.

“I was a bit horrified to see a few weeks back some chief constable was saying all these guys should be locked up, and I think already 16 people have been arrested who have come back from Syria, Maybe there was good reason for that,” he said.

“But how you treat people is really important. There is a balance to be struck, where you do not mistreat people on the one hand, but do not overlook people who are a threat [either].”