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Foreign Fighters

© Aloys Oosterwijk & ANP Foto

Welcome to the Foreign Fighters Tab of the International Crimes Database (ICD). This Tab, which is maintained by the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and sponsored by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT), will collect cases of (individuals related to) (potential) foreign fighters, who could be defined as “individuals, driven mainly by ideology, religion and/or kinship, who leave their country of origin or their country of habitual residence to join a party engaged in an armed conflict” (A. de Guttry, F. Capone and C. Paulussen, ‘Introduction’, in: A. de Guttry, F. Capone and C. Paulussen (eds.), Foreign Fighters under International Law and Beyond, T.M.C. Asser Press/Springer Verlag (2016), p. 2.)

Often, the topic of foreign fighters is looked at from a (limited) counter-terrorism perspective only. In those cases, the object is not foreign fighters as such, but foreign terrorist fighters. This term has been defined in several ways, but the most authoritative one can be found in UN Security Council Resolution 2178 of September 2014, which refers to “individuals who travel to a State other than their States of residence or nationality for the purpose of the perpetration, planning, or preparation of, or participation in, terrorist acts or the providing or receiving of terrorist training, including in connection with armed conflict”.

Conversely, this Tab will collect cases of (individuals related to) (potential) foreign fighters as such, whether the suspects are charged with terrorism-related crimes (which admittedly will often be the case), war crimes or any other crimes.

Through the analysis of these cases, policy makers, practitioners and scholars alike will get a better insight into how (individuals related to) (potential) foreign fighters are prosecuted and which lessons learned can be distilled from these prosecutions. These lessons will be incorporated in papers that will be placed on both the ICCT website and this ICD Foreign Fighters Tab.

The first paper, based in part on the ICD case summaries, as well as other sources, is entitled ‘Prosecuting (Potential) Foreign Fighters: Legislative and Practical Challenges’ and is authored by Christophe Paulussen and Kate Pitcher. It can be found here.

The second paper is entitled ‘The Prosecution of Foreign Fighters under International Humanitarian Law: Misconceptions and Opportunities’ and is authored by Christophe Paulussen, Hanne Cuyckens and Katharine Fortin. It can be found here.

The Foreign Fighters Tab has just been launched and hence the number of cases is still limited. However, more cases will be uploaded in the future.

Though the ICD is managed by a competent team of editors and interns, and already contains, in addition to several videos and working papers, more than 700 cases, any help would be greatly appreciated. We kindly request that you send suggestions for the database, information regarding important cases from any jurisdiction (not necessarily related foreign fighters), and particularly original court documents to the editors:

Thank you very much in advance for your assistance in continuing to build a comprehensive and user-friendly ICD together.

The ICD team

30 results (ordered by date)

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Mohommod Hassin Nawaz and Hamza Nawaz: R v. Mohommod Hassin Nawaz and Hamza Nawaz

Guilty Plea, 27 May 2014, Central Criminal Court, Great Britain (UK)

In May 2014, brothers Mohommod Nawaz and Hamza Nawaz pleaded guilty to having attended a terrorist training camp in Syria. The brothers had set off for Syria in August 2013 and were arrested in Calais, France, as they travelled back to the UK. In their car, rifle ammunition and a mobile phone containing videos and pictures of their time in the training camp in Syria were found. Mohommod Nawaz was sentenced to 4,5 years’ imprisonment on 26 November 2014, and Hamza Nawaz received a sentence of 3 years’ imprisonment.

Mashudur Choudhury: R v. Mashudur Choudhury

Jury Verdict, 20 May 2014, Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, Great Britain (UK)

Mashudur Choudhury is the first person to be convicted of terrorism charges in relation to the ongoing war in Syria. Mr. Choudhury, who is from Portsmouth, was found guilty of travelling to Syria to join a jihadi training camp. His intention to become a martyr was evident throughout his conversations with another foreign fighter and his posts on social media. He was arrested and charged upon his return to the UK a few weeks after his departure. Mr. Choudhury has been sentenced to 4 years’ imprisonment. 

United States of America v. Hassan

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, at Raleigh, 4 Feb 2014, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth District, United States

Mohammad Omar Aly Hassan, Ziyad Yaghi, and Hysen Sherifi are three Americans charged with conspiring to engage in various terrorist activities. The district court convicted them of various counts of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism abroad. Sherifi was also convicted of conspiring to kill members of the uniformed services within the United States.


The defendants had performed various overt acts in furtherance of a terrorist conspiracy, including travelling to the Middle East, participating in weapons trainings and creating a weapons arsenal, raising money for violent jihadist efforts, and posting about their extremist beliefs on social media.


On appeal to the Fourth Circuit, the appellants challenged their convictions on constitutional and evidentiary grounds. They first argued that the convictions were based on constitutionally protected speech (First Amendment). They also made various evidentiary challenges, including a challenge to the admissibility of lay and expert witness testimony, as well as social media videos and videos collected from defendant’s cell phone demonstrating weapon training. Finally, they challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support their conviction.


The Court dismissed all of the appellant’s challenges and upheld the district court’s conviction on all of the charges.

Prosecutor v. Mohammed G.

Judgment, 23 Oct 2013, District Court of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

This is the one of the first cases in Europe in which a person was tried for attempting to travel to Syria to join the jihad. Mohammed G., a 24-year old Dutch national, made several preparations for his departure; he booked an airplane ticket from Amsterdam to Gaziantep (Turkey), he packed his suitcase and expressed his support for the jihad multiple times. The District Court of Rotterdam found Mohammed G. not guilty of preparatory acts for and/or the committing of terrorist crimes. However, it did find the defendant guilty of preparatory acts to commit murder. According to the Court, these acts had to be seen ‘within the framework of terrorism’.

The defendant suffered from a psychotic disorder, meaning that he suffered from hallucinations in which he heard a voice in his head ordering him to take action within the framework of jihad. On the basis of this fact, the Court found the defendant not criminally responsible and acquitted him. Instead, the defendant was ordered to spend a year in a psychiatric hospital.

Prosecutor v. Omar H.

Judgment, 23 Oct 2013, District Court of Rotterdam, The Netherlands

In one of the first cases concerning (potential) foreign fighters, Omar H., a Dutch citizen, was found guilty of preparing to commit arson and/or an explosion, and of incitement to commit a terrorist crime on 23 October 2013. The District Court of Rotterdam found that Omar H.’s actions of searching online for information about how to make homemade bombs, visiting certain websites, and his purchase of the necessary objects to make a bomb demonstrated he was preparing to commit an act of arson and/or explosion. However, the Court rejected the Prosecutor’s submission that this constituted training for a terrorist crime as there was a need for actual preparation or execution in order to speak of training. Omar H. was also found guilty of inciting terrorist crimes as he had put a film and text about terrorist attacks online, and he had started an online discussion about jihad in a public forum. Omar H. was sentenced to 12 months in prison, four of which were suspended. 

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