A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

The Return of Foreign Fighters to Central Asia: Implications for US Counterterrorism Policy


The Return of Foreign Fighters to Central Asia: Implications for US Counterterrorism Policy

Abstract: 

Central Asia is the third largest point of origin for Salafi jihadist foreign fighters in the conflagration in Syria and Iraq, with more than 4,000 total fighters joining the conflict since 2012 and 2,500 reportedly arriving in the 2014–2015 timeframe alone. As the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) continues to lose territory under duress from U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition activities, some predict that many may return home bent on jihad and generating terror and instability across Central Asia. Yet several factors indicate that such an ominous foreign fighter return may not materialize. Among these factors are that a majority of Central Asians fighting for ISIL and the al-Nusra Front in Syria and Iraq are recruited while working abroad in Russia, often from low-wage jobs under poor conditions making the recruits ripe for radicalization. In addition, many of those heading for jihad in Syria and the Levant expect that they are on a “one way journey,” some to martyrdom but most for a completely new life, and do not plan a return.

Publication Information

Full Citation: 

Lynch, Thomas F., Michael Bouffard, Kelsey King, and Graham Vickowski. 2016. "The Return of Foreign Fighters to Central Asia: Implications for US Counterterrorism Policy." Strategic Perspectives 21 (October). http://inss.ndu.edu/Portals/68/Documents/stratperspective/inss/Strategic-Perspectives-21.pdf

Publication URL: 
Visit Website