ISIS Fighters Escaping Detention: What the US & Europe Can Do To Protect Their Borders


In light of the Turkish operation in northern Syria where ISIS terrorists have fled detention, it is important for the United States and Europe to be aware that there will be a possible infiltration of foreign fighters belonging to ISIS returning to the U.S. and Europe.

Let’s take a look at what happened.

The Kurdish fighters have had to deal with the ongoing war and protecting their people, while simultaneously keeping an eye on already captured ISIS fighters. However, disaster has struck, with the risk of terrorist escapees, who are mostly U.S. and European citizens, posing a new and disturbing security threat both for the Middle East and for the rest of the world.

President Trump has blamed European countries for not taking back jihadists who grew up there while they had the chance, and says they now face the threat of terrorists returning on their own volition, rather than being put on trial.

Meanwhile, General Mazloum Kobani of the Syrian Democratic Forces has emphasized that the serious threat posed by Turkish forces has meant that guarding the displacement camps has been now downgraded as a priority.

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An important complication to note is that Erdogan has been threatening to send the jihadists back home to Europe, following the sanctions implemented by the European Union. It is known that the Turkish leader has been cooperating with ISIS affiliates with the aim of obtaining oil and assist in fighting against the Kurds.

The special relationship with the U.S. and other NATO countries is crumbling as Erdogan’s regime grows increasingly embittered. His long grudge against the Kurds has the potential to affect the national security of key allies.

The Guardian mentions that at least 750 people suspected of having links to ISIS have fled a displacement camp in northeastern Syria. Needless to say, any escaped ISIS fighters present a very serious threat to any country they end up in.

Reports also assert that Turkish forces have conducted indiscriminate killings of civilians in their newly established buffer zone, which risk further inflaming the situation.

Complicating things further is the Syrian government’s decision to mobilize and move north to confront Turkish forces, as Damascus considers Erdogan’s actions to be a presumptuous act that shows contempt for Syria.

This decision may well result in the weakening of the Turkish offensive, but does not mean the threat of escaped jihadists will somehow disappear overnight. After all, neither Assad’s forces nor the SDF have the capacity to reign in terrorist escapees in a mere hour’s combat.

Sadly, there is even a risk that non-detainees in civilian areas with ISIS sympathies may decide to take encouragement from the situation, and decide to try and cause mayhem more broadly.

This is an unfortunate prospect, as it is beyond doubt that ISIS is a dangerous, violent entity that has already taken a lot of effort to weaken and degrade. Belgian political and security sources have expressed concern about two dangerous terrorists escaping since the Turkish assault. Nine French women suspected of ISIS membership have also escaped.

There are also two British combatants, Tooba Gondal and Zara Iqbal, who have fled the fighting in Syria. The Ain Issa camp that the terrorists escaped from contains mostly innocent internally displaced refugees and ISIS fighters often blend into these groups making innocent refugees and terrorists hard to distinguish.

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The situation is unsettling. Kurdish fighters have had to deal with an ongoing war, while simultaneously being responsible for surveillance of detained ISIS fighters. By taking advantage of yet another new conflict in Syria, ISIS fighters will continue to escape under the fog of war to other countries. This then leaves the U.S. and Europe vulnerable to returning fighters, as well as a resurgence of the self-styled Caliphate taking a stronger foothold in the West.

With the ever-increasing terrorist threat to the United States and Europe, what can be done to protect national borders? Western governments must decide immediately what to do to minimize the risk of dangerous ISIS jihadists from returning home to cause mayhem. Perhaps using drones to surveil the border is one option? South Africa have been trialing this for a while, as they are a country with a lot of potential for illegal crossings.

Countries at risk from jihadist infiltration must use all defensible means at their disposal to deal with this new threat. At the same time, we can see that Ankara have essentially turned on old allies, and it is far from clear what long-term consequences will ensure from this.

In the meantime, it is crucially important to minimize the risk of jihadist infiltration across borders, which remains a global threat.

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Michel Haddad is a political analysis consultant specializing in Middle East affairs. He holds a Ph.D. in politics and international relations.