Up to 6,000 Africans who fought for ISIS in Iraq and Syria could return home, the African Union’s top security official warned, calling on countries to prepare for the threat.
Smail Chergui, the AU’s commissioner for peace and security, said African nations need to work closely with each other and share intelligence to counter returning militants.
“There are reports of 6,000 African fighters among the 30,000 foreign elements who joined this terrorist group in the Middle East,” Chergui told a meeting in Algiers, according to the Algeria Press Service.
“The return of these elements to Africa poses a serious threat to our national security and stability, and requires specific treatment and intense cooperation between African countries,” he said.
Tens of thousands of foreign fighters joined the extremist group after it seized vast swaths of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in 2014. But the group suffered a host of losses to its territory and military capabilities in 2017.
Backed by a U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi forces gradually retook control of all territory lost to the jihadists, declaring that the country was now liberated from its control.
In Syria, the group faces Western-backed Syrian rebels, jihadist rivals, and government forces supported by Russia and Iran.
The losses have sparked fears that ISIS’ remaining foreign fighters may now relocate, bringing their extremist ideology and violence with them.