By Didier Bigo, Francesco Ragazzi, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, and Laurent Bonelli, Open Democracy, June 4, 2014
The deadly attacks in Madrid (2004), London (2005), Glasgow (2007) and Stockholm (2010), followed by the foiled attempts and arrests in Copenhagen (2010) and Berlin (2011) have together moved the issue of violent extremism and
‘radicalisation’ back onto political agendas at the European Union and across its member states.
Fear of ‘radicalisation’ has taken a turn for the worse since 2011 with the publication of alarmist intelligence reports and the multiplication of news reports about European citizens flocking to Syria to fight, mostly alongside the Syrian opposition.
Almost unnoticeably, the representation of Syria has moved from chaotic images of civil war to a monstrous cradle for a resurgent Al-Qaida, a powerful magnet for confirmed Jihadists and a key location for nurturing new generations of violent individuals.
The fear that European citizens travelling to Syria to fight the Assad regime may be influenced by groups linked to Al-Qaida and the spectre of dozens of battle-hardened, experienced extremists returning to their European homes full of anger and resentment and prepared to stage deadly attacks is an anxious thought stuck in our minds.
Even though it is difficult to ascertain the number of European citizens who have gone to or are still in Syria since March 2011 – the figures fluctuate between 400 to 2000 – the need for an assessment of the threat posed by these assumed radicalised European fighters heading back home is largely shared across the European Union member states. The recent French anti-radicalisation strategy presented by the French interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in April 2014 and inspired by the British strategy, is a reaction against the growing ranks of French youth joining alleged jihadist groups in Syria. However, what is the logical link – if any – between an engagement in Syria – whatever it might be – and the likelihood of future attacks in Europe?