ISIS foreign fighters from France were dispatched home to perform terrorist operations as it became increasingly clear that the group’s capital of Raqqa would fall, a fighter told BBC News.
“There are some French brothers from our group who left for France to carry out attacks in what would be called a ‘day of reckoning,'” the fighter described. Western officials fear a mass exodus of ISIS foreign fighters could trigger a renewed wave of terrorist attacks seeking to advance the group’s narrative as the physical territory that it controls dwindles.
The French terrorists join hundreds of other foreign fighters who have returned home from the battlefield in Iraq and Syria. These include nearly half of departed fighters from the U.K., nearly 300 back to France, more than 100 in Belgium, and dozens others across Western Europe, a recent Soufan Center analysis revealed.
The U.S. Department of State similarly estimated in late July that nearly 30 percent of European foreign fighters for ISIS have returned to the continent. Experts fear that some of the returning foreign fighters will pursue domestic terror plots in their home countries, or even use their passports to travel elsewhere in the West.
The November 2015 Paris attacks and the March 2016 Brussels attacks both featured fighters that had traveled to the Syrian battlefield for instruction and returned to carry out complex terror plots. Europe is particularly vulnerable to foreign fighter plots because of the freedom of movement within the European Union for member state citizens.
Many EU citizens are also eligible to enter the U.S. without scrutiny for 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program.
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