‘Strengthening cooperation with external partners: Looking for a common response to the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters’

Published date01 June 2023
Date01 June 2023
Subject MatterSpecial Issue Articles
Special Issue Article
New Journal of European Criminal Law
2023, Vol. 14(2) 231246
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/20322844231170336
Strengthening cooperation
with external partners:
Looking for a common
response to the phenomenon
of foreign terrorist f‌ighters
Christiane H ¨
Principal Advider to the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Council of the European Union, Bruxelles, Belgium
Addressing the challenge of foreign terrorist f‌ighters (FTFs) and their aff‌iliates who travelled to
Syria and Iraq to join Daesh and other terrorist groups has been a priority for the EU and the EU
Counter-Terrorism Coordinator since 2013, both within the EU and internationally. This article
sets out comprehensive EU cooperation with international partners on foreign terrorist f‌ighters:
It covers EU action related to the camps and prisons in North East Syria where FTFs and family
members are held, accountability of FTFs and aff‌iliates, cooperation on FTFs with the EUs
neighbourhood: Turkey, Western Balkans and Middle East and North Africa regions, multilateral
engagement with the United Nations and other fora as well as addressing Islamist extremist
ideology which is contributing to the radicalization process. From a practitionersperspective,the
article provides the EU policy framework and its evolution, as well as examples of capacity
building and other initiatives.
Foreign terrorist f‌ighters, rehabilitation, North-East Syria, EU, Europol, Eurojust, battlef‌ield
information, counter-terrorism, capacity building, accountability, war crimes, camps, terrorist
Dr. Christiane H¨
ohn holds an LL.M. from Harvard Law School and a doctorate from the Max Planck Institute for
International Law/Heidelberg University. The opinionsexpressed in this art icle are those of the author alone and
do not necessarily ref‌lect the positions of the Council of the European Union or the European Council.
Corresponding author:
Christiane H¨
ohn, Principal Adviser to the EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator, Council of the European Union, 175 rue
de la Loi, Bruxelles 1048, Belgium.
Email: christiane.hoehn@consilium.europa.eu
travel, Islamist extremism, United Nations, Interpol, Unitad, Global Counter-Terrorism Forum, EU
Counter-Terrorism Coordinator
In 2013, the EU was one of the f‌irst political actors on the global stage to adopt a package of
measures to address the threat from foreign terrorist f‌ighters (FTFs) who travelled to the conf‌lict
zones in Syria and Iraq.
Working with external partners has been key from the outset. As, by their very nature, FTFs
travel, international cooperation is necessary to prevent travel movements. Many countries, in-
cluding in the EUs direct neighbourhood in the Western Balkans and North Africa and the Middle
East, are signif‌icantly affected by the phenomenon.
International cooperation in connection with information collected in conf‌lict zones is necessary
in order to achieve accountability. The EU provides humanitarian and other support to the camps
and prisons in North East Syria where FTFs and aff‌iliates continue to be held. The EU cooperates on
FTFs within international organisations and bodies such as the United Nations, the Global Counter-
Terrorism Forum and the anti-Daesh coalition, and shares experiences and supports capacity
building programmes in third countries.
Travel to Syria/Iraq was mainly curtailed thanks to the imposition of measures such as stronger
border checks and the military defeat of the so-called Caliphate in 2019. Of the FTFs and aff‌iliates
who travelled, many returned or have been killed. A number of aff‌iliates have been repatriated from
the camps in North East Syria. Of the FTFs who returned to the EU several years ago, some have
reintegrated, others are spreading radicalisation and some have been released after serving a prison
European FTFs are still active within Daesh in North-East and Central Syria, as well as in Iraq.
FTFs linked to Al Qaeda aff‌iliated militias and other Jihadist groups are located in the North Western
part of Syria: the Idlib region bordering Turkey (and parts of Aleppo province).
Some FTFs have transited to Afghanistan and Africa but there have been no signif‌icant
movements to other theatres. Many children are born in the conf‌lict zone, which some observers
sometimes describe as a deliberate strategy by Daesh to raise the next generation of Daesh f‌ighter s.
The Foreign Affairs Council highlighted the importance of addressing the FTF issue in its
conclusions of June 2020:
Other key challenges demand further resolute action, such as: bringing foreign terrorist f‌ighters
(FTFs) to justice and preventing their movement, especially undetected crossings of the EUs bor-
dersThe Council recognises that Foreign Terrorist Fighters will remain a major common security
challenge for the years to come. The Council also welcomes the progress made pursuant to UN Security
Council resolutions 2178 (2014) and 2396 (2017), and recalls the ultimate goals of preventing travel for
1. More broadly on the EUsresponse to FTFs, see also Gilles de Kerchove and Christiane H¨
ohn, The Regional Answers and
Governance Struc ture for Dealing with Foreign Fight ers: The Case of the EU, in: A. de Guttry e t al. (eds.), Foreign
Fighters under International Law and Beyond, Chapter 16, pp. 299-331; Christiane H¨
ohn, Les combattants europ´
en Syrie sous langle de la lutte contre le terrorisme, in: Ann JACOBS et Daniel FLORE (eds), Les combattants
eens en Syrie, Journ ´
ees Comit´
e International des P´
enalistes francophones (CIPF) Liège 2015, pp. 3141.
232 New Journal of European Criminal Law 14(2)

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