Foreign Fighter Networks in Iraq and Beyond: Implications for Global Supply Chains

New York — December 28, 2007 — West Point's Center for Combating Terrorism (CCT) recently published the study "Al Qa'ida's Foreign Fighters in Iraq: A First Look at the Sinjar Records." This document analyzes a recently declassified database of Al-Qai'da documents captured by coalition forces in October 2007 in Iraq. The major trends of foreign fighter origins and travel routes into Iraq from the Sinjar study are summarized in the accompanying graphic.

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  • As security slowly returns to Iraq, the existing network of Islamic terrorist fighters will seek other countries in which to wage their offensive jihad. At the top of their list are other "apostate" governments in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and Algeria. Western commercial interests remain appetizing al Qa'ida targets in these countries. As U.S. government embassies and other official facilities are hardened against attack, terrorists will seek out easier targets such as multinational corporations and their expatriate employees.

  • As learned from past experience with conflicts in Lebanon and Afghanistan, tactics, techniques and procedures acquired by foreign fighters in Iraq have the potential to spillover into other countries facing instability. Tactics such as kidnapping, infrastructure attacks and various flavors of improvised explosive devices are not new but have evolved and improved significantly on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. Security professionals with responsibilities in potential conflict areas should remain cognizant of these evolving threats.

  • Terrorist networks will continue to take advantage of existing illicit smuggling routes globally, such as those used for the drug, weapons, and black market/counterfeit goods trades. Companies outsourcing in the affected countries should be aware of the potential for misuse of their legitimate supply chains for illegal traffic or terrorist facilitation. Legitimate commercial infrastructure including air and sea ports, financial and cyber networks can be exploited by terrorist recruiters and traffickers and create significant legal and financial exposure to the companies involved.

  • Even after significant attrition of these foreign fighters by coalition forces during over four years of war, their continued infiltration into Iraq demonstrates the resiliency of al Qa'ida and its ideology. As the CCT study notes, "The United States should not confuse gains against al Qa'ida's Iraqi franchises as fundamental blows against the organization outside of Iraq. So long as al Qa'ida is able to attract hundreds of young men to join its ranks, it will remain a serious threat to global security." Despite the absence of recent high-profile attacks, both domestic and multinational corporations should continue to secure their assets against terrorism and plan for business continuity in the event of an attack.

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