Islamic State fighters are infiltrating among refugees

Strategic context of Islamic State fighters posing as refugees heading to Europe.

With the increasing number of refugees from the Middle East and Africa to Europe, potential security risks and threats connected with it are being assessed. Aside from the enhancement of activities, capacities and resources of groups participating in organized criminal activities associated with the migration crisis (such as people smuggling, producing false documents, white slavery market etc.) and common criminal acts (such as stealing, disturbing the peace etc.), there is a threat of infiltration of refugees by IS fighters that aim to plan, secure and carry out terrorist activities in European countries. This concern is certainly understandable, but mostly it is only intuitive. With a few exceptions, there is no evidence to support the theory that the IS takes advantage of refugee flows. The security aspect of the migration crisis must not be underestimated, however, considering the kind of entity the IS is, with its ideology and objectives, to send their own fighters with forged passports among refugees to Europe seems highly unlikely.

It is true that on the basis of its own ideology the IS often formulates the goal of establishing a global caliphate under its leadership. However, so far the IS concentrated its activities on consolidating its own positions and monitoring of the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria, and the expansion of its influence in the region. In statements of alleged representatives of the IS, that appeared on social networks, there has been a shift in the line of argumentation: from recruitment of potential fighters from around the world to recruitment from Western countries. The purpose is to make them join the fight in Iraq and Syria, however, so far there has been only incitement of terrorist attacks at home. In the context of the current wave of refugees, the IS also presents itself on social networks as an actor that is trying to convince other Muslims not to leave for Europe because they'll find greater prosperity in the Islamic State. Therefore, the official approach of the IS is not to send its fighters away but to invite them to stay. The IS is taking advantage of the current crisis but not to take control of European countries. The priority of the IS remains the Middle East.

Intelligence services of Western countries do not consider the threat of infiltration of the IS fighters very likely. Security forces of European countries do not have (with certain exceptions) any evidence that some of the refugees are in any way linked to any terrorist organisation. We cannot rule out the possibility that there are individuals among refugees that are marginally associated with the IS or some terrorist organisation. In the majority of such cases, these individuals are for example deserters. A flood of so-called sleeper cells, which is often talked about by the media, cannot be expected. Generally speaking, since 2005 there was no recorded case of a sleeper cell sent by a terrorist organisation to plan or carry out a terrorist attack.

Sending their fighters among refugees would be also very risky for the IS. Thousands of individuals fighting in ranks of the IS are already citizens of Western countries and therefore do not need false passports. If the IS really intended to send its fighters to Europe, the easier way would be using air services than risking their lives on overcrowded boats, risking capture on the way or while arriving on European soil or the inability to get themselves to a location of a potential attack. Moreover, the IS has no need to send its own fighters to Europe since it has sufficient support in Europe so radicalised individuals from Western countries can carry out a terrorist attack on the home soil without leadership, supervision or support of the IS. The risk of a terrorist attack perpetrated by "lone wolves" remains high, but it is not related only to refugees coming to Europe. The risk of a terrorist attack perpetrated by lone wolves remained high, but it is not significantly related only to the refugees coming to Europe.

Security experts see a greater risk potential in the well-established networks of jihadists in European countries who could start to address the refugees in order to recruit them. Discontent, unwelcome and problematically integrated into society, refugees are a group that is potentially very susceptible to recruitment into the ranks of jihadists directly on European soil. The probability that the IS will send some of its members among the refugees to Europe remains relatively small even in near future.

About author: Iveta Hlouchová

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