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Policy Brief

Citizenship and Ancestry of Belgian Foreign Fighters

01 Jun 2018

Belgium is a notorious source of foreign fighters in the current Syrian-Iraqi conflict. It has the highest per capita number of Western Europe, and has already contributed substantially to the terrorist threat that some of the returning fighters pose. Belgian authorities have been straightforward from early on in admitting the scale of this phenomenon, but still they do not offer much detail about who exactly is hiding behind the figures. Aiming at a better insight, the authors of this policy brief maintain an independent database, which they use here to investigate the backgrounds of Belgium’s foreign fighters. While most of them are Belgian citizens, almost half are linked to Morocco, and rather surprisingly Russia comes second in foreign backgrounds. A comparison between the Moroccan and the Eastern contingent (all former Soviet Union and Eastern European states) reveals significant differences – in terms of recruitment for instance – that may be important for the prevention and the detection of radicalism. The main finding however is that too little is known about this Eastern contingent. This is likely also the case in other European countries, partly due to its covert way of operating. But it also highlights the risk in every country of focusing too much on the most dominant groups in terms of radicalization, potentially neglecting others that may be hidden in other diaspora communities.