Southeast Asia’s Overlooked Foreign Fighter Problem

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) continues to confront a dilemma: what to do with the fighters accused of fleeing to Syria to join the Islamic State. To the extent that this issue gets any airtime in English-language press, the focus tends to be on the 800 or so European fighters and their families. But English-language outlets tend to pay far less attention to another cohort of those detained: fighters who come from Southeast Asia. In fact, mismanagement of this group may entail particularly dire consequences. Southeast Asia is a region with porous borders, where Islamic State-inspired attacks continue apace.

The situation in the prisons in Syria that house foreign fighters and the camps that house their families has grown particularly unstable over the past few months. In early May, a group of former Islamic State fighters staged a riot in a prison in Hassakeh, a city in northeastern Syria.

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