What We're Reading

April 2020 | Career Foreign Fighters

For this special edition of “What We’re Reading,” RESOLVE highlights literature recommended by the authors of the latest RESOLVE Research Report, Career Foreign Fighters: Expertise Transmission Across Insurgencies. The literature provides insights into the role foreign fighters play in conflicts, the dynamics that drive their involvement, and the state of relevant research. Take a look at what the authors had to say: 

Chelsea Daymon 
“Research on jihadist foreign fighters places great attention on why individuals leave their home countries to join armed groups outside of their nation-states. In recent years, with the emergence and subsequent decline of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS/ISIL), questions regarding the threat level jihadist foreign fighters pose, along with debates concerning the repatriation of jihadist foreign fighters and their family members, spark considerable deliberations. While it is important to understand current developments concerning jihadist foreign fighters, it is also essential to recognize the pull factors, motivations, and experiences of jihadist foreign fighters in the past. Jihadist memoirs, biographies, interviews, and first-hand accounts offer vital insight to researchers, policymakers, and practitioners on what drives jihadist foreign fighters, sustaining them in conflicts or pushing them out. As our report displays, not all jihadist foreign fighters plan to return home once conflicts are over. Some find careers for themselves in multiple jihadist theaters, and their stories provide valuable information on this occurrence.”

Jeanine de Roy van Zuijdewijn
“There has been a large increase in the number of studies on the issue of foreign fighters over the past years. Initially, many studies focused on country-specific questions related to the current foreign fighter mobilization in Syria and Iraq, such as the Dutch contingent of foreign fighters. After this initial phase in the literature of trying to understand the ‘who and what,’ several studies have now emerged that try to adopt a broader focus. Increasingly, organizational perspectives are employed, and authors try to understand foreign fighter movements and flows, adding another layer to the existing literature. These studies try to contribute to the same debate as this report: how do foreign fighters affect local conflicts and how do they move in and between conflicts? Adopting a multidisciplinary or—at times—interdisciplinary perspective can be very helpful. In the field of terrorism studies with a small-N problem, this also leads to interesting and challenging debates about the relevancy and limits of theoretical frameworks and methodologies that have traditionally been applied in other academic fields.”

David Malet
On Tricia Bacon & Daisy Muibu's “The Domestication of Al-Shabaab” 
"Bacon and Muibu conducted extensive fieldwork and interviews in Somalia and offer informed complexity to the academic debates on whether foreign fighters add or subtract value from the jihadist groups they join. They find that the answer is “both,” and the empirical and current detail and the data from an African case make this piece a valuable contribution to the literature."

On "Returnees in the Maghreb: Comparing Policies on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia," edited by Thomas Renard
"This report, with in-depth case studies produced by women, provides welcome detail on the returnee debate, policy approaches, and effectiveness in a non-Western context. Each report is well-documented and useful for a comparative analysis of approaches to returnees."


Tiffany S. Chu and Alex Braithwaite
There has been a great deal of discussion about the large volumes of foreign fighters involved in civil conflicts in Syria and Iraq over recent years. Yet there remains little systematic ...
Muhammad Al-`Ubaydi
In May 2011, a member of the jihadi website Shumukh al-Islam initiated a survey designed to identify the "main reason that made you [i.e., the online group's members] love jihad." Some of...
Youssef Aboul-Enein
Sheikh Abdullah Azzam is a name that only gets attention among true students of Islamist militancy, yet he has had a tremendous impact on Usama Bin Laden and left him with the tools neede...
Maria Galperin Donnelly, Thomas M. Sanderson, and Zack Fellman
The Islamic State group has mobilized tens of thousands of individuals from over 120 countries to fight in Iraq and Syria on behalf of the organization. Although the scope and scale of th...
Randy Borum and Robert Fein
The recent influx of foreign fighters into Syria, particularly those aligning with the Islamic State, has brought renewed attention to the security threat posed by people who cross border...
Tricia Bacon and Daisy Muibu
How much influence did foreign fighters exert over al-Shabaab's insurgency in Somalia? An emerging policy consensus is that foreign fighters exert decisive influence on insurgencies, even...