With Mosul recaptured from Islamic State and Raqqa, part of its old town already in the hands of U.S.-backed groups, probably weeks from being taken, the Islamic State is likely soon to be wiped off war zone maps.
Like Lord Voldemort in the early Harry Potter books, it won’t have a physical presence – but it will live on in other forms: The minds of the foreign fighters returning to their homelands, the online presence it has built and the souls of the disaffected Sunni populations in the areas that the terrorist group has held for years.
It’s important to assess all three dangers and start dealing with them even before the looming military defeat of IS.
The foreign fighters, reportedly, have been abandoning the failed caliphate in droves – the ones, that is, who haven’t been killed, a number that’s hard to estimate.
But thousands of them are still in Syria and Iraq, and many will try to go home.
In 2013, Thomas Hegghammer, an authority on foreign fighters at the University of Oslo, calculated that of 401 terrorists who took part in attacks in the West between 1990 and 2010, 107 had traveled to foreign countries to fight for Islamist causes.
Hegghammer has estimated that at most, one in nine foreign fighters return to strike in the West, but, in a 2016 paper, Daniel Byman of Georgetown University argued that one in 20 would be more accurate.
That could still mean a lot of attacks considering how big a magnet for foreigners Islamic State has been.
According to Byman, the returnee threat is overrated, though.
The former foreign fighters take a number of “off-ramps” on the road to terror, even if…
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