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Radicalized French citizens come and go as the door slams on refugees

People hand in their documents for identification at the entrance of the transit center for refugees near the southern Macedonian town of Gevgelija, after crossing the border from Greece. (Credit: AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

The discovery of a passport used to enter Europe through Greece near the body of a Stade de France suicide bomber set off a cascade of public calls to Syrian refugee resettlement, from individuals on Twitter to U.S. governors. Laying the blame at the feet of tens of thousands of refugees ignores the more dangerous threat – homegrown terrorism.

One of the attackers at the Bataclan theater, Samy Amimour, left his home of France to join the Islamic State in 2012. A story in the French newspaper Le Monde from December 2014 described how his father traveled to Syria to convince his son to leave the brutal group. The effort failed. His father safely and easily returned back France.

A French citizen traveled to see the Islamic State and returned home without significant notice. Fortunately, he was motivated by his opposition to the group. Unfortunately, his son was radicalized and returned to France in order to carry out the attack over the weekend. Despite already heightened security and new efforts to close the border, French citizens are able to leave the country for Syria and return home.

The problem of people returning from Syria is one that affects, to name a few, the U.K, Denmark, India and Australia. Countries have been trying to deal with the problem and are taking it even more seriously now. The U.K. requested U.N. sanctions against four of its citizens who left the country and joined the Islamic State.

“The move underlines the government’s determination that those who go and fight for [the Islamic State] and threaten Britain will face consequences for their actions,” read a government statement.

In the U.S., Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two people responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, traveled to Russia and parts of the region a few years prior to the attack. It is believed that he was radicalized during the trip. He returned to the U.S. in 2012 without incident because of his permanent residence status. The following year he and his brother planted bombs that killed three people.

The Tsarnaev brothers managed to plot the attack without raising red flags. It is much like Ismail Mostefai, of the Paris attackers. The Frenchman had reported run-ins with the law for petty crimes and was thought to be at risk of radicalization. But for whatever reason, he slipped through the cracks. He and Amimour are among the roughly 1,500 French citizens who have traveled to Syria in the past few years.

Some go as far as arguing that this is exactly what the Islamic State wants when it launches some attacks. Others suggest the route taken alongside refugees by one of the attackers was a deliberate attempt to create a backlash among Westerners. If both are true, then the Islamic State is succeeding. It also leaves the French less safe than they were just a week ago.

Denying entry to people who are suffering under Islamic State violence and now fleeing for their lives sows the seeds for another generation of radical violence.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]