Foreign Terrorist Fighters

Foreign Terrorist Fighters

On 27 February 2019, the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) launched its third Trends Report, The Gender Dimensions of the Response to Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters, at a joint event with George Washington University. The panel discussion was moderated by Idil Absiye of UN Women, with the participation of Audrey Alexander of George Washington University, Devorah Margolin of King’s College London, and CTED experts Aleksandra Dier and David Wells. CTED/Vijai Singh

On 24 September 2014, at a historic meeting held at the level of Heads of State or Government, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2178 (2014) to address the acute threat posed by (FTFs). 

FTFs are defined as “individuals who travel to a State other than their State of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training, including in connection with armed conflict”. They increase the intensity, duration, and complexity of conflicts and may constitute a serious danger to their States of origin, transit, destination, as well as neighbouring zones of armed conflict in which they are active. The FTF threat is evolving rapidly changing and is unlikely to be fully contained in the short term. A significant longer-term risk is posed by FTFs returning to their countries of origin or upon their arrival in third countries. 

According to the Security Council, terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaida, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh) and associated groups have attracted over 30,000 FTFs from over 100 Member States. Because the related challenges are by their nature international, the Council has called on Member States to enhance their international cooperation in preventing their travel. Attempts to combat the threat through a purely domestic approach will not work. 

In both developed and developing countries, significant numbers of young people are considering travelling to areas where their personal security would be at risk. The departure of so many young people to conflict zones has a profoundly destabilizing effect on their communities and, above all, on their families. In order to attract individuals to its cause, ISIL exploits socioeconomic grievances and feelings of alienation, marginalization, discrimination, or victimization, precipitated by a host of factors, including real or perceived lack of opportunities, lack of good governance, inequality, injustice, and feelings of injustice. 

Women FTFs are often viewed from the perspective of deep-rooted gender stereotypes. The conventional view is that women are less likely than men to engage in terrorism. However, the experiences of many Member States suggest a different picture. In Nigeria, for example, the frequency and intensity of suicide attacks involving women and girls increased sharply in 2015, and Al-Shabaab has publicly called upon parents to send their unmarried daughters to fight alongside male militants. Women have long played significant roles in terrorist movements. The current scale of their involvement in perpetrating acts of terrorism and violent extremism, however, demands a considerably more serious and urgent examination. 

The massive flow of refugees and asylum seekers from conflict zones also raises the risk that FTFs will attempt to use the refugee system to escape prosecution. All States should establish, in consultation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an effective procedure to grant refugee status to eligible asylum seekers and exclude persons who are not considered to be deserving of international protection in accordance with the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. 

Terrorist organizations also benefit financially from the FTF phenomenon, whether in the form of donations made by the fighters themselves or in the form of ransoms paid by others to free FTFs from conflict zones. 

Key official United Nations Security Council documents on FTFs and other aspects of the CTC/CTED mandate can be found here. 

Download the CTED factsheet about foreign terrorist fighters.