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Foreign terrorist fighters

The phenomenon

Increasingly, we are seeing terrorist groups work to radicalize individuals and inciting them to leave their homes to become foreign terrorist fighters. These groups leverage the Internet and social media for recruitment, creating a truly global security threat.

Individuals – often young people – are being lured from communities worldwide to travel to conflict zones in the Middle East to join terrorist groups operating primarily in Iraq and Syria, and increasingly in Libya.

These individuals sometimes use fraudulent identity documents to reach their destinations undetected.

Those who return to their countries of origin pose even greater security risks, as they can exploit the military skills they learned abroad to carry out attacks on their home territory.

INTERPOL’s global role

In September 2014, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2178 which recognizes INTERPOL’s efforts against the foreign terrorist fighter threat.

These efforts include information sharing via our I-24/7 secure communications network, global databases and a system of international notices. In addition, we have procedures to track stolen and forged identity papers and travel documents, which form part of our Integrated Border Management Task Force.

The value of sharing information

Information sharing is key to identifying foreign terrorist fighters and preventing them from crossing borders.

INTERPOL’s Counter-terrorism Fusion Centre is a global hub for intelligence on transnational terrorist networks shared by member countries worldwide. A dedicated project on foreign terrorist fighters was established in July 2013 to address this phenomenon.

We maintain a database of suspected foreign terrorist fighters. Data is analysed and insights are shared with INTERPOL’s membership, for example, intelligence on the capabilities, means and emerging trends of foreign terrorist fighters.

Case studies

The success of rapid information sharing is clear.

In December 2014, three individuals – two men aged 18 and 27, and a 15-year-old boy – wanted in Spain on terrorism-related charges were arrested in Bulgaria at a border checkpoint with Turkey, just hours after INTERPOL issued an alert. They were believed to be heading to join insurgents in Syria.

Another individual wanted for terrorist offences was apprehended in Lebanon on his way to Syria in October 2014, thanks to Belgium’s decision to issue an international alert through INTERPOL.

Operational exchange

We bring together investigators for operational exchange in a working group on foreign terrorist fighters. Comprising member countries from all regions and other international organizations, the working group meets regularly to foster international cooperation and exchange information on ongoing investigations.

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