10,000 foreign fighters returning to Europe: What can be done to stop them?

Francesca Astorri
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When it comes to terrorism, five digits are scary. In the coming months, 10,000 foreign fighters will come back to Europe. This is what the Italian National Anti-Mafia Directorate told Al Arabiya English.

“The data we have are indicating that in the next months at least 10,000 foreign fighters will transit through the Balkans or will establish themselves there. This creates a significant problem that can’t be solved at a regional level, but it requires a global answer,” Giovanni Russo, Deputy Prosecutor at the Italian National Anti-Mafia Directorate said to Al Arabiya English in Rome.


“There is little we can do at a national level. We need a concerted action at a European or international level,” Russo stressed out.

Talking on the sidelines of NATO Defense College Foundation’s conference held in Rome, Italy, titled ‘The Western Balkans at a crossroads’, Russo explained to Al Arabiya that in Italy only about 200 people were expelled for national security reasons, a number that he considers to be relatively limited.

“This means there is a control system, especially a control of the territory developed from anti-mafia actions,” said Russo.

The Italian Ministry of Interior said in a statement issued on December 6 that “two Albanian citizens were expelled today from the national territory for reasons of national security”. One of the two Albanians expelled was instigating jihad and the other was close to the organized crime involved in human trafficking.

Illegal activities

This shows that the threat coming from the Balkans is not only related to foreign fighters, but to a much wider range of illegal activities that are potentially harder to control.

If the return of foreign fighters to Europe is a phenomenon that goes beyond direct national control, the criminal network that will eventually support these fighters in reaching Europe through smuggling or avoiding checkpoints is something that national security forces can stop.

NATO Commander Chris Whitecross during “The Western Balkans at a crossroads” in Rome, Italy. (Supplied)
NATO Commander Chris Whitecross during “The Western Balkans at a crossroads” in Rome, Italy. (Supplied)

This sort of micro-management of transnational threats could be an effective solution, but maybe not the only one. Cooperation in security mechanisms, in investigations and sharing intelligence information seems like an inevitable path for Europe.

“Eurojust coordinates investigations that involve more than one European Union member-state or a EU member-state and a non-EU state. We now have a new protocol with Eurojust so that in case of a terrorist attack in any EU State, they will contact our database, which is the most advanced judiciary database in the world - the richest in Europe - to provide information to the colleagues in the attacked country. So this provides investigative cooperation in the 24 hours of the attack. We are a center of excellence,” Russo concluded, without hiding his pride.

Maybe the fear for 10,000 foreign fighters coming back from the Middle East will break the resistance of those that in Europe still don’t want to share intelligence and give up old nationalistic jealousies.

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