About 500 Europeans are now fighting for the rebels in Syria against Bashar al-Assad's regime, the EU's anti-terror chief told the BBC. He added the majority of those fighters are from the UK, Ireland and France.
“Not all of them are radical when they leave, but most likely
many of them will be radicalized there, will be trained,"
Gilles de Kerchove said. "And as we have seen this might lead to
a serious threat when they get back."
Intelligence agencies are now concerned that some of those
currently in Syria could join Islamists groups linked to al-Qaeda
and when they return to Europe may launch terrorist
In March, the Netherlands raised its terror threat level to
"substantial", citing an increase in the number of Islamist
militants travelling to Syria, as well as the radicalization of
"Close to a hundred individuals have recently left the
Netherlands for various countries in Africa and the Middle East,
especially Syria," National Coordinator for Security and
Counterterrorism (NCTV) said in a statement in mid-March.
Security bodies have increased efforts to track how people are
being recruited, especially in Britain and Belgium, according to
In mid-April, Belgian police raided 48 homes across the country and detained six
men, suspected to be members of an Islamist group named
Sharia4Belgium, which “is part of a broad international jihadist
"We have indications that Sharia4Belgium was sending people
to Syria to join terrorist groups there," Reuters quoted a
spokesperson for Belgium's federal prosecutor as saying.
A Salafist group opposed to Assad, it was also suspected of
recruiting fighters for Syria's long-lasting civil war against
"The recruitment occurred, for example, by youths being
spoken to on the street and then invited to private meeting places
in Antwerp," Prosecutor Eric Van der Sypt said at a
press-conference earlier in April.
Van der Sypt said prosecutors were aware of 33 people with links
to the group who were either in or on their way to Syria.
In early April the International Centre of for the Study of
Radicalization (ICRS) estimated that up to “600 European Muslim have gone to
Syria since early 2011," when the conflict started.
The study by ICRS also said Britain accounts for the biggest
number of arrivals with up to 134 people joining the cause.
The study revealed that up to 5,500 foreign fighters have
traveled to Syria since the beginning of the uprising, with some 11
per cent of them originate from Europe.
"Based on the conflict totals, we estimate that 70 to 441
Europeans are still currently present in Syria," ICSR report
states. "This suggests that most of the Europeans who have
travelled to Syria are still on the battlefield."