Two Yemeni soldiers guard a court that hold 10 al-Qaida suspects during a final hearing in a state security court in Sanaa, Yemen, on March 26, 2013. According to the state-run Saba news agency. (Xinhua/Mohammed Mohammed)
UNITED NATIONS, April 11 (Xinhua) -- Returning or relocating foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) are likely to remain a significant long-term challenge, requiring countries to balance repressive and "soft" responses, according to a study by a UN counter-terrorism agency.
Many countries have struggled to secure criminal convictions for FTFs. While imprisonment may delay, but not necessarily reduce the threat that they pose, says the study of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), which was released on Wednesday.
The current FTF group is also relatively young and includes children of FTFs who may have been trained and indoctrinated by the Islamic State terrorist group, according to the study called "The Challenge of Returning and Relocating Foreign Terrorist Fighters: Research Perspectives."
A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) shows Syrians carrying an injured man after a blast in Damascus, Syria, on Feb. 21, 2013. (Xinhua Photo)
The actions of a small proportion of returnees and relocators from the current conflict zones have demonstrated their increased lethality, both as attackers and as attack planners, it says. "Such cases remain relatively rare, but it is difficult for states to assess which FTFs may pose a threat, or act as radicalizers, recruiters, and creators or reinforcers of terrorist groups in the future."
Despite military progress and enhanced counter-measures by countries, the fate and location of a sizeable proportion of FTFs appears to be uncertain. Identifying and locating these remaining FTFs remains a critical priority for the international community, says the study.
"Historically, relatively few returning FTFs posed a direct threat. However, those that did pose a direct threat were responsible for some of the most heinous, deadly, lethal terrorist activities and attacks carried out over the last three decades," Michele Coninsx, executive director of the CTED, told reporters on Wednesday.
FTFs have also played a critical role in creating and strengthening terrorist groups, and radicalizing and recruiting terrorist networks, she said.
The current FTF wave has clear differences with previous ones. Studies indicate that it is larger, more complex, more global, and more diverse in terms of age, gender and experience in the conflict zones. These differences make the potential challenges associated with returnees and relocators significantly bigger, but also more complex, according to the study.
Effective responses will therefore require not only increased capacity and strengthened international cooperation, but also a more nuanced approach, which recognizes the complexity and diversity of returning and relocating FTFs, and their families, it says.
Researchers have identified Iraq and Syria as the destination for the largest modern FTF mobilization, attracting between 30,000 and 42,000 FTFs. As terrorist groups suffered decisive defeat in both countries, FTFs were returning to their country of origin or relocating in third countries.