By Peter R. Neumann, ICSR Director
Earlier today, triggered by ICSR’s investigation and subsequent media reports, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) announced a probe into British nationals who have joined jihadist groups in Syria.
No doubt, the consequences of the Syrian civil war – both domestically and internationally – will be a major security issue for the UK (and other European countries) for years to come.
It is vital, therefore, that both policymakers and public begin to engage in an informed debate about the nature of potential security threats and how they can be mitigated.
As part of ICSR’s commitment to facilitating that debate via rigorous, evidence based research, we believe that the FCO and other parts of Government need to address the following questions:
1) What resources are dedicated to monitoring the flow of British foreign fighters to Syria and back to Britain?
2) What’s the percentage of known UK nationals/residents that are currently fighting in Syria who have no prior extremist associations?
3) Are there specific hubs and/or centres for recruiting UK residents/nationals to fight in Syria?
4) What do government agencies know about the activities of UK residents/nationals fighting in Syria?
5) How many UK foreign fighters in Syria are thought to have joined the al Qaeda linked groups Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS?
6) To date, how many UK nationals/residents have returned to Britain after fighting in Syria?
7) What actions have been undertaken by government agencies to identify returning foreign fighters?
8) Has the government developed a mechanism for assessing the risk posed by returning UK nationals who have participated in the Syrian civil war?
9) What are the government’s plans for dealing with returning British foreign fighters?
10) Is it the government’s intention to reconfigure the Channel Project to deal with UK residents/nationals who have participated in the Syrian civil war?
ICSR is engaged in a multi-year research project on the consequences of the Syrian civil war. In April, ICSR was the first research institution to publish an estimate of the number of European fighters in Syria. More recently, we published an assessment of British foreign fighters.
ICSR research formed the basis for yesterday’s exclusives in the Guardian and Telegraph, which triggered subsequent media reports. ICSR’s joint investigation with BBC Newsnight can be watched here.