The Mayor of the city of The Hague is pleased to invite you to the International Conference on ‘Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters’ for senior officials, practitioners, and experts, to be held in The Hague on 15-16 February, 2017.
The Mayor of the city of The Hague, Jozias van Aartsen, is concerned about the influx of Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters from the conflict zones in the Middle East and North Africa: “These returning foreign terrorist fighters will be a different category then those we’ve seen before. They have participated in armed combat and are therefore more battle-hardened. We have to be well prepared”.
During the past few years, more than 30,000 people – men, women and juveniles – left their country to participate in armed conflicts in the middle East and North Africa. Some have moved on to third countries, but many have returned or may soon wish to do so. Returning foreign terrorist fighters are a particularly fast-growing challenge to global and local safety and security. This threat ranges from the involvement in plotting terrorist attacks, to establishing new terrorist cells or linking up with existing local terrorist networks. Returning foreign terrorist fighters can also provide operational expertise, raise funds for terrorist activities, be actively involved in recruitment and facilitation, or be a source of inspiration to others susceptible to terrorist ideologies. On the other hand, there is also the risk that RFTF may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, disillusionment and vulnerability to (further) radicalization themselves.
States face numerous challenges in the identification, detection, prosecution and rehabilitation of returning foreign terrorist fighters. This includes timely and adequate risk assessment, as well as detecting and tracking movements. Returning foreign terrorist fighters take advantage of porous borders, use stolen passports and are increasingly creative in interrupting and diversifying travel routes, thereby making optimal use of freely available encrypted communication technology to conceal their travel plans. While detection and information sharing are key to successful investigation and law enforcement action against returning foreign terrorist fighters, other issues that could impair effective prosecutions include the inability to secure strong evidence on activities that took place abroad, the inability to use intelligence in criminal proceedings or the need for and availability of mutual legal assistance.
In dealing with returning foreign terrorist fighters, there is a growing consensus that a comprehensive and multifaceted response is needed, based on strong cooperation and sharing of experiences. Ideally, the response should be a mixture of preventive, security, criminal and rehabilitative measures. It should address the disruption of terrorist acts, early intervention aimed at preventing radicalization and travel, the prevention of (further) radicalization and/or violence in the direct social environment of the returnee and ultimately, the reintegration of RFTF into society. This requires simultaneous, synchronized measures at the global, national and local level.
The Hague, International City of Peace and Justice, has been dealing with radicalization issues for many years and would like to share its experiences at the local and regional level with others. At the same time, The Hague recognizes how much it can learn from others: in Europe, the US and Canada, but also elsewhere, for example through the Strong Cities Network, the European Forum for Urban Security and the EU’s Radicalisation Awareness Network.
With this goal in mind, and to kick-start the discussion, the Mayor of The Hague, together with the Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, organized a successful informal Round Table meeting in New York, on 17 November, bringing together policymakers and practitioners from government, cities, civil society organisations and experts.
As a next step, the Mayor of The Hague cordially invites you to attend the International Conference on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters and share your valuable insights, best practices and lessons learned with colleagues from across the spectrum: community police, prosecutor’s office, prisons and probation and frontline practitioners. The Conference format will be interactive and action-oriented, with various inspiration sessions, practical workshops and a field visit to the “Schilderswijk”, a neighborhood of The Hague known not only for its challenges, but also for its innovative, participatory approaches.