21st Oct 2016

Iraq fighting could bring jihadists to Europe, commissioner warns

  • King: return of foreign fighters from Iraq "is a threat we must be prepared to face". (Photo: European Commission)

The Iraqi army's attempt to recapture the city of Mosul from the Islamic State militant group could spark a return of jihadist fighters to Europe, the EU security union commissioner has warned.

"This is a threat we must be prepared to face," Julian King said in an interview to Germany's Die Welt published on Tuesday.

Mosul, part of Iraq's autonomous Kurd region, has been a stronghold of the militant group since June 2014. A large-scale operation was launched on Monday (17 October) by Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the 1.5 million strong city.

On Tuesday morning, Kurdish regional leader Masoud Barzani said 200 sq km of land had already been taken.

King however said that he did not expect a "mass exodus" of IS fighters if the city falls, but that "even a small number represents a serious threat".

He said around 2,500 fighters in the Mosul area had come from Europe, and that past experience, especially in the Afghan war, shows that not all foreign fighters go back to their country after they are defeated.

"Some are killed in combat or look for another fighting scene," he said.

The security commissioner, who took office at the end of September, said the EU should "give terrorists always less opportunities to act".

He said it was currently "too easy" to dodge passport controls at EU borders and that the EU should also be able to check authenticity of birth and marriage certificates whose information is used to make passports and visas to enter the EU.

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