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Foreign Fighter Mobilization and Persistence in a Global Context

Pathways to radicalisationRegionsWorld

Terrorism and Political ViolenceJournal abstract

Although foreign fighting is hardly new, scholarly research on the phenomenon is only a decade old. Since 2005, there has also been a dramatic rise in the number of transnational insurgents fighting in the Middle East, and they appear to have become the face of the jihad movement. However, of the dozens of foreign fighter contingents around the world in recent decades, only about half have been Islamists. In this article, I contend that the difference between the other contemporary and historical foreign fighter groups and the jihadis is not one of mobilization or effectiveness, but of persistence. Most other foreign fighters demobilized at the end of their conflicts and reintegrated. I argue that the primary factor that accounts for the persistence of the jihadis was the policies of their home and host states that prevented reintegration and created cohorts of stateless, and now professionalized, actors who perpetuate in weakly-governed conflict zones. In presenting this argument, I first attempt to establish a common working definition of foreign fighter based on the first decade of discourse in this emerging field of study, and present a comparative examination of the largest recorded foreign fighter mobilizations.

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