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Career foreign fighters fuelling conflicts

Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn, researcher and lecturer at ISGA, was interviewed by Deutsche Welle (DW) on the topic of career foreign fighters. This is also the topic of study in her latest publication.

There has been a lot of foreign fighters returning to their home countries after joining and fighting with terror groups. There is also a group of foreign fighters that move from conflict to conflict and have made fighting in insurgencies their vocation. These are referred to as career foreign fighters and have a significant impact on conflicts in the Middle East. This is because of their strong ideological views and battlefield expertise. De Roy van Zuijdewijn: 'Many of them are part of transnational jihadist networks and can use these networks, combined with their skills and resources, to make conflicts more dangerous'. This has led to career foreign fighters becoming top leaders in later stages.

Committed and charismatic

De Roy van Zuijdewijn latest study has shown that foreign fighters develop their skills and gather resources before transferring their abilities to new violent actors, either in different conflicts or in a different ideologically aligned group. New foreign fighters are now linked by their commitment to the global jihadist movement, instead of specific training camps. Career foreign fighters have also proven to, in some cases, be perceived more effective and reliable by local populations, which make them a pull-factor for potential new foreign fighters.

Mitigating the impact

Mitigating the impact of these career foreign fighters is essential when we see their ability to fuel conflicts. The study of De Roy van Zuijdewijn also found that several career foreign fighters studied had shifted their focus over time into plotting terrorist attacks against their home countries. This creates another motive for governments to deal with foreign fighters. Steps taken to specifically reduce the amount of career foreign fighters is thus in interest of Western governments. 'This means moving beyond a narrow focus on returnees only.'

Read the full article on the website of Deutsche Welle.

Read the full report on the website of Resolve Network or watch the discussion organised by the United States Institute of Peace.

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Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn MA is a Researcher and Lecturer at the Institute of Security and Global Affairs of Leiden University and a Research Fellow of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. Her research interests are the impact of terrorism, foreign fighters, threat and lone-actor terrorism. Her current PhD-research focuses on reactions to terrorist attacks. She has published various peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and reports on these topics.
She also teaches in different educational programmes and has given lectures for various audiences during conferences, high-level meetings and executive courses for professionals.

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