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Western Foreign Fighters

The Threat to Homeland and International Security

Phil Gurski

A number of recent terrorist attacks were committed by young men and women who had radicalized, went to train with IS in the Middle East, then returned to their home country to commit acts of violence. In this text, Phil Gurski examines why some people decide to abandon their homeland to join terrorist groups, and whether they pose a significant threat to their societies if they survive and return. The focus is on Canadians and other Westerners who see violent Jihad as divine obligation, with the intention to challenge the view that foreign fighters are all brainwashed.

The book first looks at state motivation for resorting to conflict and the nature of war, including Jihad. It then discusses why Westerners volunteered to join the military in past wars to offer points of comparison before focusing on why some are now going to Iraq and Syria to fight along groups such as Islamic State. This includes a thorough discussion of the increasing participation of women and the debates among extremists on whether they can engage in warfare. Lastly, the threat posed by radicalized fighters when they return home after either training or waging war abroad is examined in detail along with what is done to prevent and counter it. Written in an accessible manner by a reputed expert on terrorism and radicalization, the text will appeal to anyone seeking to understand why people join terrorist groups and the threats they represent to their homeland.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 224Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-7379-5 • Hardback • January 2017 • $64.00 • (£42.95)
978-1-4422-7380-1 • Paperback • December 2016 • $32.00 • (£22.95)
978-1-4422-7381-8 • eBook • January 2017 • $30.00 • (£19.95)
Phil Gurski served for more than 30 years as an analyst in the Canadian intelligence community. In 2001 he joined CSIS where he was a strategic analyst, specializing in homegrown Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism and radicalization to violence. In 2013 he moved to Public Safety Canada as a Senior Strategic Advisor on Canada’s Countering Violent Extremism policy.
This insightful, practitioner-based account by a retired Canadian government intelligence analyst examines the challenges facing Canada and its Western allies from homegrown Islamist extremists…. This book is recommended as a secondary textbook in courses on terrorism and counterterrorism, with each chapter beginning with a chapter abstract and concluding with a summary.
Perspectives on Terrorism

Western Foreign Fighters will undoubtedly resonate with readers…. Western Foreign Fighters is an important book that presents a fine contribution to an emerging field of policy concern and academic interest.
Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression

Phil Gurski has provided an easily accessible approach to one of the most challenging security problems of our time. In particular, he presents the full array of policy options confronting governments and voters considering how to address the threat of returned fighters from ISIS and other militant groups.

David Malet, director of the Security Policy Studies Program, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

This valuable book supports the fundamental conclusion that the threat from Islamic State veterans returning to the West is real and significant. A must read for scholars and security professionals alike.
Joshua Kilberg, adjunct research professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University

Phil Gurski is uniquely qualified to write about foreign terrorist fighters and the threat they pose to Canada and the West. The result is a unique and invaluable contribution to our understanding of this complex and poorly understood phenomenon. This important book will prove useful and interesting to academics and practitioners in the field of terrorism. It will also be relevant for members of the general public interested in better understanding the challenges posed by foreign fighters.
Thomas Juneau, assistant professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa

Western foreign fighters worry the intelligence community, policy makers, politicians and the general public. We find it difficult to understand the phenomenon. In the last couple of years, thousands have traveled to the battlefields in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Who are these men and women? Why do they risk their lives in faraway countries? And do they pose a threat to us? No better person to look into these difficulties than Phil Gurski. With his academic background and his many years of experience in the field of counter terrorism he has found the right lenses to investigate this highly complex phenomenon. Putting things in historical perspective and helping us to better understand why men go to war helps us to not see these persons as brainwashed kids but also see the attractiveness of becoming a foreign fighter. Gurski also makes clear that we have to prevent this from happening and that there is a certain risk when these foreign fighters return home. Assessing the threat and adding policy recommendations to his study makes this book a highly valuable study to all that are interested in what is one of the most worrisome security issues both in and to the Western world.
Edwin Bakker, Professor in Terrorism and Counter Terrorism Studies, Director of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs, Leiden University