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A nation must think before it acts.
While the phenomenon of so-called “foreign fighters” is in no way new the past thirty-plus years has shown a marked increase in the numbers of individuals traveling abroad to fight in civil conflicts in the Muslim world. The crisis in Syria (2011-present) has created a massive influx of such individuals going to fight. Of particular concern in western capitals has been the numbers of individuals from those countries that have gone to fight in that conflict which has since crossed the border into neighboring Iraq with the establishment of the socalled “Islamic State” and threatens to broaden the conflict into a larger regional sectarian conflagration. While the numbers of such participants from Western Europe have been greater than those who have gone from the United States and Canada there are legitimate concerns in both Washington, DC, and Ottawa about American and Canadian citizens who have gone—or attempted to go—to fight there and in other locales such as the Maghreb and Somalia. The analysis here will provide some background on the foreign fighter phenomenon, discuss the foreign fighter flow model, explore the issue from both Canadian and US perspectives to include providing details of some original research categorizing the characteristics of a small sample of US and Canadian fighters and those who attempted to go and fight, discuss how both governments have attempted to deal with the issue, and offer some policy prescription for dealing with this issue that is of importance to both international security writ large and domestic security in the US and Canada.
The Foreign Fighter Phenomenon
The foreign fighter phenomenon in the Muslim world has grown since the call to jihad against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Following that conflict foreign fighters migrated to such places as…