Anniversary of Charlie Hebdo attack: European states need to take responsibility for returning foreign terrorist fighters

(New York, N.Y.) – On the fifth anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attack in France, Jean-Charles Brisard, senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP) and President of the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism, warns against underestimating the risk posed by foreign fighters and prison radicalization in France.

This week marks five years since the attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo—the satirical magazine—by the Kouachi brothers. These men were not only foreign fighters; while Chérif had been arrested during his attempt to travel to Syria to fight U.S. forces in Iraq, his brother Said had allegedly traveled to Yemen to link up with al-Qaeda’s affiliate, AQAP. The Charlie Hebdo assault was shortly followed by an attack on a kosher supermarket by Amédy Coulibaly, who pledged allegiance to ISIS. Coulibaly was reportedly radicalized in prison and met Charlie Hebdo attacker Chérif Kouachi there.

Jean-Charles Brisard commented:

“The anniversary of the (Charlie Hebdo) attack reminds us that neglecting the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters and prison radicalization can have deadly consequences. Jihadists have been successful in radicalizing and recruiting French nationals both online and in person. Islamist extremists have called on their followers to carry out attacks in Europe or to travel to join the fight in the Middle East. And they have been successful. European states need to take responsibility for their respective citizens returning from the conflict zones and put them on trial, while making sure the convicted returned foreign fighters will not be exposed to other extremists in prison. We need to protect our citizens and learn from the horrific experiences we have endured to get here. Charlie Hebdo is a lesson in never underestimating the threat prison radicalization and foreign fighters can pose if not controlled properly.”

France is the largest source of Western fighters to Iraq and Syria, with an estimated 2,000 French nationals having traveled to the conflict zone as of May 2016. The country also suffers from a major radicalization problem within its prisons, where an estimated 1,400 inmates are believed to be radicalized. Now, Turkish authorities announced they have repatriated 150 foreign terrorist fighters from Syria since last November.

The Counter Extremism Project breaks down the myths about foreign fighters spread by ISIS propaganda in the report entitled Foreign Fighters: Fact or Fiction. To read the full report, please click here

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On February 26, 2015, a Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a market in Biu, Nigeria, killing 19 people and injuring 20 others. A second attempted-suicide bomber was caught and beaten by a crowd before he was able to carry out his attack.

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