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Foreign Fighters and the Returnee Threat

Foreign Fighters and the Returnee Threat

The Syrian conflict has been the most socially mediated war in history. In response, ICSR has developed some of the most sophisticated open-source methods used by academics today to better understand the origins, role and involvement of the foreign fighters participating in it.

This culminated in the creation of an internal database containing information on more than 700 Western volunteers, providing an empirical basis for quantifying the experiences of these fighters. This research was augmented by on-the-ground fieldwork and interviews with more than 100 foreign fighters, which were conducted during their time in theatre.

In addition to this, ICSR curates a number of subsidiary databases based on data collection from both open and closed sources. One of these comprises a codified archive of more than 4,000 entry records of Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL/Daesh) volunteers, consisting of an itemised breakdown of the paperwork they completed when first joining the movement. We also maintain open source databases relating to Islamic State attacks in the West, and returnee accounts.

These rich empirical sources provide the basis of our ongoing work to quantify, contextualise, and explain the role of foreign fighters in the Syrian conflict, their potential menace to the West, and the likelihood of a so-called ‘returnee threat.’


  • Advising governments, law enforcement, intelligence on how to curb the flow of foreign terrorist fighters;
  • Understanding the motivations and drivers of radicalisation for those becoming foreign terrorist fighters;
  • Contextualising and assessing the in- theatre threat profile of those who become foreign terrorist fighters;
  • Assessing the returnee threat;
  • Exploring opportunities for deradicalisation;
  • Providing insights on counter-messaging and campaigns.

Recent Policy Reports

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    Forgotten refugees – the experiences of Syrian military defectors in Turkey

    By Alison Brettle Photo: January 2023: Syrian refugee tents near the Syrian-Turkish border. Credit: Shutterstock/Mohammad…

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  • Mar212023

    ICSR Event – Everyday Hate: How Antisemitism is Built Into Our World and How You Can Change It (Book Launch), April 11th

    Where: King’s College London When: Tuesday April 11th, 5pm BST ICSR invites you to attend a book…

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  • Mar152023

    ICSR Event – Plotters: The UK Terrorists Who Failed (Book Launch), March 30th

    Where: King’s College London When: Thursday March 30th, 5.30pm BST ICSR invites you to attend a book…

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