Violent Extremism: Beyond Foreign Fighters and Behind Numbers
European Union Institute for Security Studies
The fact that from 2013 until 2015 almost 1,000 people from the Western Balkans left to fight in Syria and Iraq is a matter of ongoing concern.1 Even though the number of foreign fighters began to decrease as of 2015, it is estimated that more than 300 have returned to their home countries. The return of foreign fighters, however, represents only the tip of the iceberg: the problem becomes much more complex when other individuals from the region who were not necessarily foreign fighters but subscribe to the ideology of Islamist extremism are factored into the equation. While the returned foreign fighters potentially represent an ongoing security threat, the major challenge derives from individuals and groups aiming at fragmenting society and especially radical Islamist preachers and practitioners. In particular, the traditional practice of Islam has been undermined in recent years by a new wave of radical clerics who have sought to spread the doctrines of conservative, Salafi-inspired Islam.