Sunday, May 25, 2014

Dutch Jihadists Returning From Syria Pose Significant Threat, by Soeren Kern

The age of Dutch jihadists is decreasing constantly and the number of women is growing.

More than 100 Dutch Muslims travelled to Syria in 2013 with the intention of taking part in jihadist activities there, and at least 20 battle-hardened jihadists have since returned to the Netherlands, posing a significant threat to national security, according to a new report published by the Dutch intelligence agency AIVD.

The AIVD annual report for 2013 was presented by Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk and AIVD head Rob Bertholee in The Hague on April 23. In contrast to previous years, when the main security threat was deemed to be a cyber-attack, the principal concern in this year's report is the mounting threats posed by the returning jihadists, as well as by Muslim hate preachers who are using the Internet to radicalize young Dutch Muslims and incite them to violence.

The report warns that the presence of European fighters in Syria provides the jihadist groups active there with an "excellent opportunity to recruit individuals familiar with our region to commit acts of terrorism here." In addition, returnees could "exploit their status as veterans to radicalize others in the Netherlands." Overall, AIVD's primary concern is about the radicalizing influence that Dutch jihadists will exert on Muslim communities in the Netherlands.

AIVD says the age of Dutch jihadists is decreasing constantly and the number of women in this group is growing. Most of the fighters are of Moroccan descent, although some are from Bosnia, Somalia and Turkey. Many of the Dutch jihadists are second-generation immigrants who were born in the Netherlands. They mostly come from the Dutch cities of Delft, Rotterdam, Zeist and The Hague.

The vast majority of Dutch jihadists in Syria have joined one of two rebel groups, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JaN). AIVD believes that at least 10 individuals from the Netherlands were killed in 2013, including two Dutch jihadists who blew themselves up in suicide attacks (one in Syria and one in Iraq).

The report says that Al-Qaeda's involvement in the Syrian conflict makes the threat far more acute. AIVD warns:

"[Al-Qaeda] still has every intention of carrying out attacks in the West, and the use of fighters from Europe could make that goal easier to achieve. It is conceivable that some will return home with an order to commit or facilitate such acts. There is also a risk that these fighters will form new networks in Europe, pooling their experiences either to perpetrate attacks or to assist new recruits wishing to fight in Syria or other conflict zones.

"The presence of jihadist fighters from Europe in the ranks of groups affiliated or associated with Al-Qaeda, such as ISIL and JaN, offers it a chance to deploy battle-hardened operatives in countries like the Netherlands as well as in Syria. Most hold a European passport and have their origins in our region, making them unlikely to attract much attention once they return and so ideal to carry out or facilitate assignments on behalf of the organization."

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