Few Turks from Europe join foreign terrorist fighters

Few Turks from Europe join foreign terrorist fighters

A recent report of the United Nations Security Council 1267/1989 Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee’s Monitoring Team estimates that 25,000 foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) from 100 countries are linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), with an overwhelming majority of those fighters in Iraq and Syria.

This issue has put Turkey under the spotlight of the international media many times, as many FTFs choose Turkey to cross into Syria and Iraq. 

 Come to think of it, one would rather jump to the conclusion that many Turks living abroad and particularly in Europe would have become FTFs and gone to Syria to join Islamist radical groups fighting in the country.

At the end of the day, the majority of the younger Turkish generations in Europe are still coming from conservative, pious families. Had they wished to join radicals like ISIL, it would have been much easier from them to use Turkish territory to cross to Syria.

Yet of the FTFs that come from Europe and other Western countries, only a handful are of Turkish origin.

This in turn provides important input as far as the integration debates are concerned. Obviously we can’t go as far as concluding that Turks are fully integrated in the countries they have settled. Nonetheless, one can safely say the general picture about the level of integration of Turks in Europe especially is not as bad as some would argue. At any rate, they are less open to radicalization, which indicates that at least the sense of exclusion and alienation is much lower when compared with other migrant communities.

This is an important point because Turkey has been the target of serious criticism on the FTFs issue. It was initially accused of turning a blind eye and then not taking sufficient action and measures to stop the crossings into Syria.

But FTFs are individuals who radicalize into violent extremism in their own countries. Obviously this is a problem that cannot be solved in the short term but needs to seriously be taken into account in a multi layered approach that should be endorsed by the source countries. In addition, those with the potential of becoming FTFs don’t turn out to be recruits while on vacation in Turkey. They are recruited in their countries of residence. So in the short term officials in the source countries also need to focus on cracking the recruiting and facilitation networks that operate inside their frontiers. 

Coming back to the initial point at the beginning of the article, it’s no doubt good news that only a few Turks living abroad join the FTFs. But that does not mean that there a handful of Turks among the U.N.’s estimated 25,000 FTFs. Ironically, they are recruited from Turkey and obviously the Turkish government also needs to do its homework. 

No doubt the attack on March 20, 2014, in Niğde by three ISIL affiliates who were trying to transit from Turkey to their countries of origin that left three dead was a turning point for the Turkish government to take this issue much more seriously.