The number of Europeans who have traveled to fight in Syria “is estimated at between, more or less, 1,500 and 2,000 people, based on what we’ve heard from our colleagues,” Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milquet told reporters in Brussels on Thursday, giving an estimate more than double the figure offered last month by U.S. intelligence officials
E.U. interior ministers gathered Thursday in Brussels to discuss the flow to Syria, which has soared to the top of the counterterrorism agenda as the civil war has entered its third year. Syria has become a gathering point for extremist Islamist fighters from around the world, officials said Thursday. Many fear that combatants could return home and commit acts of terror on European soil or serve as inspiration to others.
European officials said they were stunned by the speed of the radicalization and flow of their citizens to Syria, and some officials urged new measures, such as collecting and sharing more airline passenger information, in an effort to slow the migration.
“Before summer, on the part of France, there were less than 100 French residents who were in Syria. At the moment that I’m speaking, it’s more than 180; 184 to be precise,” French Interior Minister Manuel Valls told reporters in Brussels. And “most individuals have indicated their willingness to fight in organizations close to al-Qaeda,” he added.