Muslims born outside of the Middle East and returning to their native lands radicalized are becoming and increasing problem in Europe and Australia. A new report from the New York Times suggests that Syrian militants are trying to radicalize Americans, as well.
The report, authored by Michael Schmidt and Eric Schmitt, notes that the FBI has reason to believe that Islamic militants fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria are attempting to “identify, recruit and train Americans and other Westerners who have traveled there to get them to carry out attacks.” The plan to bring Americans into the fold on the ground in Syria is in its “early stages,” they claim, and only about 70 Americans have either traveled to Syria since the civil war began or attempted a trip there. The plan appears to be to recruit them into fighting against Assad and, once that mission is complete, send them back to America or other Western host country to commit acts of violence there.
The article cites individual examples of Americans who have died while in the company of Islamic militants in Syria already; one Pittsburgh man lost his life on the battlefield last summer. The threat the FBI is targeting, however, is not so much the potential loss of life–Americans assume the risk of death when they travel to a war zone–but the return of these soldiers to America gaining fighting experience and a desire to spread the violence to the United States.
The plan to infiltrate European countries and their former colonies seems to have already begun and could parallel what plans to send militants back to America may look like. The number of European and Australian citizens flying to Damascus to participate in the fight against Assad are now in the quadruple digits, and local officials across the continent are attempting to implement stronger security measures to catch any potentially radicalized travelers.
Less than a week ago, Spain arrested a man returning from the war in Syria in the southern Málaga airport for having ties to al-Qaeda and meeting with potential members while in Syria. The United Kingdom, in particular, has identified “hundreds” of their citizens fighting in Syria–some as young as 16–and the government is beginning an exhaustive review of their immigration policies to tackle a number of issues, including the return of many UK citizens from the Syrian warfront.