The Blog

Europe Grapples With Its Homegrown Jihadists

2:48 PM, Aug 15, 2014 • By JOSH COHEN
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

From monitoring and penetrating jihadist groups to aggressively targeting and prosecuting the recruitment networks, European governments have taken a number of steps to combat the threat of terrorism from their own citizens. In the U.K., for example, a law passed in 2013 targeted at home grown terrorists allows the government to take away the passports of anyone whose "actual or suspected" activities are deemed contrary to the public interest. The U.K.’s Home Secretary Theresa May has been using the law to aggressively strip British jihadists fighting with groups such as ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusra of their citizenship, revoking the passports of 20 people in 2013 alone. France has also joined Britain in stripping its returning nationals of their citizenship upon arrival at the French border if security services can ascertain that they have been fighting with terrorist groups overseas. Other European countries such as Holland and Germany have also looked at measures related to the confiscation of travel documents as well.

According to Magnus Ranstorp, however, it is critical that coercive measures be complemented by a softer approach. Ranstorp pointed to the EU Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN), which focuses on developing a series of “best practices” for engaging at the local level with (potential) foreign fighters, their families and communities, as the type of organization that can play a critical role in preventing homegrown European terrorism. 

“Many young Muslim men in the West are struggling with their identity, and all they have known since 9/11 are stories of Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, which feeds the radical narrative that the West is at war with Islam,” said Ranstorp.

He argues that much of the most critical work in ensuring that extremist views do not result in violence needs to happen within the Muslim community itself, the overwhelming majority of who do not possess extremist views. “We need to make sure to get local agencies, such as social services and NGOs involved as well. In most cases, the families of these jihadists are shocked and overwhelmed by how to deal with radicalized family members, and we need to work directly with family members to develop plans for de-radicalization and psychological aftercare,” said Ranstorp.

The ongoing wars in Syria and now Iraq may drag on for years, and thousands of European citizens will continue to return home after fighting with radical groups like ISIS. As a result, it will be impossible to prevent all terrorist attacks in Europe by homegrown jihadists. This does not mean Europe is doomed to see another 7/7-style attack, but there are likely to be more attacks like the one on the Jewish Museum in Brussels in June. The battle with terrorism has frequently been referred to as a “long war,” and Europe is now on the frontlines.

Josh Cohen is a former U.S. State Department project officer. He currently works for a technology company and contributes to a wide number of foreign-policy-focused media outlets.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers