BRUSSELS—Three European Union (EU) member states voted on Friday to join U.S.-led military actions in Iraq.
The U.K., Belgium, and Denmark pledged to join airstrikes on ISIL targets (the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, also known as ISIS or IS) in Iraq. ISIL is a Muslim terrorist group that has taken over portions of Syria and Iraq.
The EU has an invested interest in seeing ISIL stamped out in Iraq and Syria. Over 3,000 fighters from Europe were recruited by ISIL, according to the European Union security chief Gilles de Kerchove.
There are also growing fears of ISIL fighters returning back to Europe after fighting in the Middle East, a move that would dramatically increase the terrorist threat in Europe.
“We know that these fighters are not going there and staying there. Many of them are actually coming back. And this opens up the door to have terrorist cells within our own member states, which is extremely dangerous,” said Amanda Paul, an analyst the at Brussels-based think-tank the European Policy Center.
In a video posted online on Sunday, ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad Al-Adnan encouraged Muslims all over the world to “kill the disbeliever whether he is civilian or military.”
In a similar video posted online in mid June a narrator says in German, “Brothers, it’s time to rise, set forth for the battle if you are truthful, either achieve victory or the shahadah [martyrdom].”
Even before those videos however, a man killed four people at a Jewish museum in Brussels in May. Mehdi Nemmouche, a French national, is now being held in Brussels in connection with the crime on charges “murder in a terrorist context.” Several former ISIL captives identified him as one of their captors in Syria and police believe he was fighting along ISIL there for over a year.
“We are working with our interior ministers at the European Union to make sure that the so-called ‘foreign fighters’ stop going to these countries to do these despicable acts. And we are trying to work with neighboring countries to stop these foreign fighters passing through,” said Michael Mann, a spokesperson for the European Commission.
As the EU does not have its own military, it has supported action on the ground in other ways. It has spent $190 million (150 million euros) in humanitarian aid for refugees in Syria and $21 million (17 million euros) for aid to refugees in Iraq this year.
“We are providing first of all humanitarian assistance to those who’ve been suffering from this. We are [also] providing political and diplomatic assistance,” said Mann.
Belgian, British and Danish air forces are joining the US, France and some other Arab states in Iraq, but so far none have agreed to carry out missions in Syria.