Men suspected of being Islamic State fighters walk toward a screening point outside Baghouz, in eastern Syria, on March 5. Some of the foreigners not imprisoned have been seeking repatriation to their country of origin, often without success. (Delil Souleiman/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Returnees’ from ISIS

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, July 17

In the 1990s, after the conclusion of the war between the Afghans and the Soviet Union, the term “returnees from Afghanistan” was coined in reference to Arab fighters who traveled to Afghanistan to help fight the Soviet occupation troops and then returned, radicalized, to their home countries. At the time, there was a clear concern in Egyptian political circles about these men and women, especially given the growing spread of terrorism. Consequently, many of them were prosecuted, and some of them were imprisoned for a period of time. Now, the concern may be renewed with the phenomenon of “returnees from ISIS.” A recent study by Mohammed Gomaa, an expert on extremist groups from the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, titled “The Return of Foreign Fighters from Syria and Iraq: The Size of the Phenomenon and the Security Implications,” highlights the danger that this phenomenon could pose to the security level of countries with large groups of foreign fighters. The study was based on the most recent and most accurate estimates of foreign fighters who joined the ranks of Islamic State. It indicates that the number of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq alone is about 20,000 fighters, belonging to at least 90 countries. Egypt is at the top of that list. Indeed, Islamic State, through its offshoot and franchise organizations, has been one of the most active terror groups in Egypt in recent years. It also spread into Libya, where it has successfully established hidden cells throughout the country. Dealing with this particular issue is a difficult feat. It requires identifying and tracking the potential destinations to which these fighters travel once they return to their home countries. It also necessitates close surveillance of these cells’ sources of funding in order to limit their ability to operate. As far as I know, the Egyptian government has so far done neither. We must therefore be aware of this danger and act accordingly to protect our country. We cannot afford to return to the 1990s, when returnees could freely operate in our country unhindered and unobstructed. – Abd al-Latif al-Manawai (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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