IS 'capital' reclaimed, but IS threat remains

Family returning to check on their house in Raqa after expulsion of jihadists from the city.

RAQA - Explosions of ordnance left in the ruins of Raqa have killed 14 people in the week since the Syrian city was retaken from the Islamic State group, a spokesman said Tuesday, while Western analysts warned that the city's recapture will amplify the threat from foreign jihadists returning home.
"At the end of last week, nine civilians were killed," Mustefa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that retook the former jihadist bastion, said.
The US-backed force has banned access to the devastated northern Syrian city to displaced residents wanting to return but Bali said that "unfortunately some civilians are managing to slip back in."
He did not specify in how many blasts the nine were killed but said they had returned to assess the condition of their homes.
Raqa, IS's main Syrian hub, was retaken after a more than four-month-old operation and suffered extensive damage. Planting booby traps in homes and roadside bombs was the centrepiece of IS's defence system.
Bali said the mine-clearing effort only started officially on Tuesday and added that five other people had already been killed in the ordnance disposal process.
"Five people were killed, three fighters and two technicians," he said.
The technicians were civilians working with a Syrian Kurdish organisation specialised in ordnance disposal.
The United Nations reacted to the civilian deaths Tuesday by expressing concern for displaced residents they said might be tempted by the dire conditions in displacement camps to return to Raqa prematurely.
"The UN is concerned for the safety and protection of civilians at risk of death and injury from unexploded ordnances reportedly planted throughout Raqa city neighbourhoods," a statement from the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
- Returning fighters -
Thousands of foreign jihadists who have fled the IS-held territories in Iraq and Syria could pose major security problems as they return home, a think-tank said Tuesday.
At least 5,600 citizens or residents of 33 countries had returned home as IS faced devastating assaults on territories it held in both Syria and Iraq, said the Soufan Center, a non-profit security analysis group.
"Added to the unknown numbers from other countries, this represents a huge challenge for security and law enforcement entities," it said.
IS proclaimed a caliphate in 2014 on territories the size of Italy which it had seized in a sweeping assault across swathes of Iraq and Syria.
It has since lost some 85 percent of the territories it controlled to US and Russian-backed offensives.
But despite its collapse, Soufan warned that IS or something similar would likely survive as long as the "so long as the conditions that promoted its growth remain".
Some of the survivors among 40,000 foreign IS fighters from more than 110 countries would inevitably "remain committed to the form of violent 'jihad' that al-Qaeda and IS have popularised", it said.
"It is clear that anyone who wishes to continue the fight will find a way to do so."
IS has claimed a string of attacks across the Middle East, Europe and beyond since declaring its "caliphate".
The Soufan report cited Radicalisation Awareness Network figures saying around 30 percent of some 5,000 European Union residents thought to have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq had since returned home.
Soufan estimated that Russia was the source of the greatest number of jihadists (3,417), with more than 3,000 each from Saudi Arabia and Jordan, 2,962 from Tunisia and 1,910 from France.
The Soufan report said re-integrating women and children who had joined IS posed particular problems.
It said governments usually either incarcerate returning jihadists, which "only postpones the problem", or place them in reintegration programmes, which it says are "notoriously hard to design and run".
"The questions of identity, and the widespread mistrust of government institutions and mainstream politics that IS has managed to exploit are unlikely to go away," the report said.
"Nor therefore is the phenomenon of foreign fighters and returnees, whether they join the remnants of IS or other new groups that emerge in its image".