Fears rise in Europe over jihadist influx
BERLIN: Europe faces a new influx of Islamic State jihadists if Iraqi forces retake the group’s stronghold Mosul, officials and analysts warned yesterday, adding to fears on a continent battered by a string of Islamist attacks. Thousands of Europeans have left for Iraq and Syria over the last two years to wage jihad, but after the IS suffered a string of territorial defeats this year in both countries, some of its fighters have begun returning to the continent.
As Iraqi forces press their offensive in Mosul, the “caliphate” declared two years ago by the IS, experts urged Europe to prepare itself for more battle-hardened jihadists ready to launch attacks back home. “The retaking of the IS’ northern Iraq stronghold, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent IS fighters,” the EU’s commissioner for security Julian King told German daily Die Welt. King thought it was unlikely that there would be a mass exodus of IS fighters from Mosul to Europe but he stressed that even a handful of jihadists returning would pose a “serious threat that we must prepare ourselves for”. Around 2,500 European fighters are still in the conflict zones, said King.
The IS may become less appealing to potential recruits if its Iraqi stronghold were to crumble, but fighters left without a “home” would pose dangers for the West, said Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. “Rudderless but without a sense of revolutionary purpose, they will present a menace to security officials around the world for years to come,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph. The IS group “has shown a capacity to send fighters back hidden among the refugees coming to Europe. If it is threatened in Iraq and Syria it may step up the number of those ‘returnees’ to establish networks or even launch attacks,” he warned. —AFP