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Foreign Fighters

© Aloys Oosterwijk & ANP Foto

Welcome to the Foreign Fighters Tab of the International Crimes Database (ICD). This Tab, which is maintained by the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and sponsored by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT), will collect cases of (individuals related to) (potential) foreign fighters, who could be defined as “individuals, driven mainly by ideology, religion and/or kinship, who leave their country of origin or their country of habitual residence to join a party engaged in an armed conflict” (A. de Guttry, F. Capone and C. Paulussen, ‘Introduction’, in: A. de Guttry, F. Capone and C. Paulussen (eds.), Foreign Fighters under International Law and Beyond, T.M.C. Asser Press/Springer Verlag (2016), p. 2.)

Often, the topic of foreign fighters is looked at from a (limited) counter-terrorism perspective only. In those cases, the object is not foreign fighters as such, but foreign terrorist fighters. This term has been defined in several ways, but the most authoritative one can be found in UN Security Council Resolution 2178 of September 2014, which refers to “individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training, including in connection with armed conflict”.

Conversely, this Tab will collect cases of (individuals related to) (potential) foreign fighters as such, whether the suspects are charged with terrorism-related crimes (which admittedly will often be the case), war crimes or any other crimes.

Through the analysis of these cases, policy makers, practitioners and scholars alike will get a better insight into how (individuals related to) (potential) foreign fighters are prosecuted and which lessons learned can be distilled from these prosecutions. These lessons will be incorporated in papers that will be placed on both the ICCT website and this ICD Foreign Fighters Tab.

The first paper, based in part on the ICD case summaries, as well as other sources, is entitled ‘Prosecuting (Potential) Foreign Fighters: Legislative and Practical Challenges’ and is authored by Christophe Paulussen and Kate Pitcher. It can be found here:

The Foreign Fighters Tab has just been launched and hence the number of cases is still limited. However, more cases will be uploaded in the future.

Though the ICD is managed by a competent team of editors and interns, and already contains, in addition to several videos and working papers, more than 700 cases, any help would be greatly appreciated. We kindly request that you send suggestions for the database, information regarding important cases from any jurisdiction (not necessarily related foreign fighters), and particularly original court documents to the editors:

Thank you very much in advance for your assistance in continuing to build a comprehensive and user-friendly ICD together.

The ICD team

The Hague, January 2018

30 results (ordered by date)

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United States of America v. Nader Elhuzayel and Muhanad Badawi

Jury Verdict, 21 Jun 2016, District Court for the Central District of California, United States

Two men, Mr. Nader Elhuzayel and Mr. Muhanad Badawi, were found guilty by a jury of conspiring to support the Islamic State on 21 June 2016 after earlier pleading not guilty. In particular, Mr. Elhuzayel, who was arrested prior to boarding a flight to Israel via Turkey at Los Angeles International Airport, was found to have encouraged others to support and join the Islamic State, and to have vowed to travel to Syria to fight for the terrorist group himself. Both were also convicted of financial fraud charges, the proceeds of which were used to fund the travel. A decision with regard to sentencing is anticipated later this year. 

Prosecutor v. Omar H

Judgment, 31 May 2016, Supreme Court of The Netherlands, The Netherlands

In May 2016, the Dutch Supreme Court dismissed the appeal against the Court of Appeal’s judgment in the case of Omar H, a foreign fighter convicted of training for terrorism. In upholding the Court of Appeal’s judgment, the Supreme Court decided that training for terrorism in this context would be interpreted broadly. Thus, researching how to make bombs online, and buying items to make explosive devices in light of Omar H’s other interests in jihad and travel to Syria were sufficient to prove he had trained himself to commit a terrorist crime. In dismissing the appeal, the Supreme Court also confirmed Omar H’s sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment. 

Junead Khan: R v. Junead Khan

Jury Verdict, 1 Apr 2016, Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, Great Britain (UK)

In April 2016, Mr. Junead Khan was convicted by a jury verdict of attempting to travel to join terrorist organisation ISIL in Syria and of plotting to attack US personnel on military bases in the UK. The evidence showed that Mr. Khan had obtained bomb making instructions, a manual on life in ISIL and that he was attempting to acquire a marine combat knife. He had also been in contact with a jihadi fighter in Syria who offered him the addresses of soldiers to attack. He was convicted with his uncle, Shazib Khan, and was sentenced in May 2016 to life imprisonment. 

Shazib Khan: R v. Shazib Khan

Jury Verdict, 1 Apr 2016, Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, Great Britain (UK)

Mr. Shazib Khan was found guilty by a jury verdict for planning to travel to Syria and join Islamic State in Levant, a terrorist organisation. In preparation for the travel, Mr. Khan had purchased items for use in Syria and he had also expressed his desire for martyrdom to others who had previously joined ISIL. His case was heard alongside that of his older nephew, Mr. Junead Khan, and he was later sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment.

R. v Choudary (Anjem): Anjem Choudary, Mohammed Mizanur Rahman v. Regina

Judgment on Appeal from the Central Criminal Court, 22 Mar 2016, Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), Great Britain (UK)

Anjem Choudary and Mohammed Mizanur Rahman were charged with inviting support for the Islamic State, which is designated as a proscribed organisation in the United Kingdom. Both men are well-known speakers who have publicly supported the Islamic State, including by attending protests at which Islamic State banners were displayed.

While Choudary and Rahman’s speeches did not explicitly invite violence, the Court found them to be clear statements of support for the Islamic State, based on the common-sense meaning of the word “support.” According to the Court, “support” is not limited only to assistance that is practical or tangible, but also extends to support in the form of endorsement of approval of a proscribed organisation.

Finally, the Court addressed the appellants’ contention that the law in question violated their right to freedom of expression. The Court found the right to freedom of expression to be not absolute, specifically when the law prescribes the criminalization of the conduct and its purpose is to respond to issues such as national security which are listed in the European Convention on Human Rights.

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