hen the self designated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also

known as Daesh or ISIS, first came to prominence after its dramatic capture of Iraq’s second city of Mosul in June 2014, there were gloomy predictions about a generational struggle against a new and highly volatile enemy.

A terror group had finally emerged which held ground and had declared a new caliphate. ISIL is a terror group which produced oil and sold it and had access to heavy weapons in abundance, left by fleeing Iraqi army troops running away for their lives.

A Murderous Gang

ISIL is an extremist organisation which seemed able to unite together other disparate extremist groups from across the Middle East, Africa and Asia and gain their allegiance whilst sheltering behind a false shield of Islamic religious philosophy. ISIL is, in fact, a murderous gang who casually beheaded and crucified their enemies or burned them to death in a cage before a video camera. A group founded in 1999 with real reach, finance and leadership under Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi sitting in Raqqah – his Syrian headquarters.

Far from Beaten

But now the situation is radically changing as Arab forces, led by re-invigorated Iraqi army troops, who are supplied and trained by the US, are taking back control over much of the ground lost to ISIL during their sweeping initial victories. We should beware; although ISIL is losing on the ground, due mainly to highly effective air supremacy and reconnaissance including UK Tornado and Typhoon fast jets operating from Cyprus, it is far from beaten.

We should be prepared for ISIL, in its pain and suffering, to now lash out against the West – an injured animal can be a very dangerous beast indeed.

Call to Arms for European Support

According to recent press reports, ISIL has now urged its supporters in the West to increase the tempo of their terror operations and ‘attack markets, roads and clubs’ across the continent of Europe. Abuu al-Hassan al- Muhajar is the new ISIL spokesman and he has ordered his troops to ‘burn the ground under their feet’. He has focussed his calls to arms on European supporters and the cells which the group claim to have lain dormant within the continent. If 2016 was anything to go by with its numerous attacks, then 2017/18 could be equally, if not more challenging.

Let us not forget so easily the events of the previous year in towns like Verviers, at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, in Copenhagen,


in Belgium, in Tunisia, in Chattanooga, in Mali, Turkey, Burkina Faso and on the Ivory Coast.

Unprecedented Threat

The head of MI6, Alex Younger recently described the threat from terrorism as now being ‘unprecedented’. Younger went on to say that 12 viable plots against the UK had been disrupted since June 2013. His words should be a timely reminder that we remain on a very high state of alert and that watchfulness and situational awareness must be orders of the day.

One way for the extremists to put their plans into action would be to mobilise the hundreds of European citizens who opted to leave their homes, their jobs and their families having been seduced by the promises of a skilled ISIL propaganda and recruitment campaign to join the battle in the Middle East.


It is estimated that at least 800 men and women have chosen to leave their European homeland over the past 5 years and to spend their time fighting in Syria or Iraq, either with the so called ‘Islamic State’, al Qaeda or with some other extremist rebel group. This number should be set against the total number of foreigners to have followed this path, reported by the CIA to be over 20,000 but less than 32,000.

Returning Fighters

Some of these people will have already been killed in battle. Some will remain in the region and continue their fight despite the defeats and loses now being inflicted by Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces. Others will return back to their home state, and it is this group of so called ‘returners’ who are of particular concern and who are the subject of this article.

This group of ex-fighters will find it physically difficult to simply get back into their country of departure and try to resume their former existences. Many are already well known to the border authorities and national police services and will simply be intercepted and detained as they attempt to pass through air or sea ports on their way home. Over 60 have already been arrested trying to re-enter the UK. It is to be hoped that this group can be

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successfully de-radicalised and re-integrated into society, although this will not be an easy task.

We must assume, however, that a proportion will have managed to bypass border security checks. They may have simply obtained new passports or otherwise will have re-entered the state illegally or in disguise and set themselves up with a new identity and a new life. Such individuals will have had considerable, but not necessarily great training, but more importantly, they will have had front line combat experience in a savage and enduring civil war; they are battle hardened.

Tactical Experience of Urban Warfare

These returning fighters will have been highly motivated and radicalised in order for them to have made the decision to go to war in the first place. Although they may not have been particularly well trained in military disciplines, they will have developed practical skill-at-arms and be familiar with a range of weapons such as hand grenades and rifles, ammunitions and explosives. They will have tactical experience of urban warfighting, ambushes, sniping and the setting of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They will possess the self-confidence to carry out operations either on their own as a

...but now an injured and

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