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ISIL Foreign Fighters - From Zero to Hero

By mid-2016 flow of foreign fighters, at one time flocking to the group at a rate of 1,000 or more a month, had slowed to a trickle. No longer able to replenish fighters at the rate they were being lost on the battlefield, US military officials said IS leaders in places like Manbij were turning to forced conscription of captive civilian populations. CIA Director John Brennan told lawmakers 16 June 2016 the CIA estimated the group is down to 18,000 to 22,000 fighters, slightly lower than other recent estimates and down significantly from an estimated high of 33,000 fighters in 2015.

By late 2015 the latest wave of European recruits appeared to be radicalized even more quickly than their predecessors, and often appeared even less interested in the theology of what they are doing, becoming jihadists as though it were a lifestyle choice. In France, jihadists have been highly active in recruiting in jails among minor criminals and drugs dealers. Going to Syria or joining the Islamic State has become a kind of alternative outlet for deviant behavior like street gangs or juvenile delinquency or drug-trafficking.

Spartacus, a Thracian slave and gladiator, led a rebellion against the Romans from 73-71 BC. It did not end well. The term Spartacist is frequently associated with the Spartacus League (German: Spartakusbund) leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, who were murdered in Germany in 1919. Luxemburg, 1870-1919, political activist born in Russian Poland, participant in the 1905 Russian revolution; and with William Liebknecht, a leader of the Marxist German Spartacus Party. After the Spartacist uprising in 1919, they were both arrested and killed by soldiers in Berlin.

More recently, a Trotskyite splinter organization has assumed the Spartacist mantle, contending that the causes of class-war prisoners have often defined entire political generations. The Sparts argue that black oppression, the segregation of the masses of black people at the bottom of this society, is intrinsic to American capitalist rule. The Spartacist League learned of the case of Mumia-Abu Jamal in late 1986. Mumia is a former Black Panther Party (BPP) member, a MOVE supporter, and a working journalist on death row for the killing of Police Officer Daniel Faulkner in December 1981.

The faade of democracy is designed simply to obscure the fact that the capitalist state is an instrument of organized force and violence consisting at its core of the police, army, courts and prisons. The Sparts looked to the imprisoned lumpenproletariat of men without occupations, which they viewed as the future shock troops of the revolution, because blacks are among the most oppressed. Lumpenproletariat [literally "broken proletariat, roughly translatable as "slum proletariat"] covers the outcast, degenerated, and submerged elements such as beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, petty criminals, the chronically unemployed, to be found in all modern industrial cities.

The Jihadi movements typically appeared to be more concerned with issues of identity, existential threats, perceived humiliation, cultural domination and oppression. They are not driven, as many social and economic root causes explanations often suggest, by resentment at their inability, or the inability of their communities, to take advantage of what globalization and modernity have to offer, but by a rejection of modernity, and a fundamental hostility toward globalization, post-enlightenment values, and secular humanism. They abhor the spiritual void, unrestrained individualism, moral relativism, materialism, and hedonism that they see as intrinsic to modernity and globalization.

The quest for dignity, recognition and respect (not only for oneself, but also for ones community and ones culture) and the perception that one is being denied all of that at both a collective and personal levels often is a critical driver.

Social marginality operates as a powerful driver not so much directly (because individuals resent being socially excluded) but indirectly in several ways such as it may result in unemployed young people having too much time on their hands (boredom and idleness) and it may feed into the search for adventure and fame with the Transnational Salafi jihadist (TSJ) movement has been able to tap - from zero to hero.

Henri J. Barkey, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, noted in January 2016 "the large number of young men (and in some cases, women) vulnerable to recruitment by such millenarian-type organizations. The Muslim world is replete with uneducated young people for whom religion is their life's organizing principle and a substitute for education or opportunity. They fight for goals that defy rational explanation and in the service of a perverted interpretation of religious ideology, which, by its very nature, is closed to any reasoning.

"With each passing year of war, shuttered schools and collapsed governance manufacture a new class of these susceptible youngsters. Uneducated 13- to 15-year-olds are the perfect recruiting pool for the likes of Islamic State. They are easily brainwashed, obedient and unlikely to be swayed by reason or outside influences. For deeply alienated immigrant youths living in Western societies, Islamic State and its ideology offer a sense of belonging, identity and acceptance facilitated by social media."

New Jersey Office of
Homeland Security
Syria and Iraq Foreign Fighters
Source Countries
March 18, 2015

Number of
Bosnia and HerzegovinaBIH330
Egy ptEGY360
Ky rgy zstanKGZ100
Liby aLBY600
New ZealandNZL10
Republic of MacedoniaMKD15
Russian FederationRUS1,150
Saudi ArabiaSAU2,000
The NetherlandsNLD225
United Arab EmiratesARE15
United KingdomGBR550
United StatesUSA100
At the start of the campaign in 2014, the CIA provided an estimate for the size of Daeshs fighting force. "[The terror group] can muster between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria," a CIA spokesman told CNN. In November 2015, an anonymous official speaking to USA Today claimed that the air campaign had killed approximately 23,000 Daesh fighters. According to a press briefing given by Army Col. Steve Warren on 06 January 2016, another 2,500 militants were killed in December 2015.

US intelligence officials estimated by the end of December 2014 that more than 18,000 foreign fighters had flocked to the region -- up from about 16,000 at the start of November. An estimate by the National Counter Terrorism Center in September put the number of foreign fighters at more than 15,000. The number of Western passport holders joining the fight also has grown, to at least 3,000. Earlier estimates had put the number of Westerners fighting in Iraq and Syria at about 2,700.

Through the end of 2015, slightly more than 1,000 foreign fighters a month were joining Islamic State. According to the January 2016 US intelligence estimate, more than 34,000 foreign fighters from at least 120 countries have now gone to fight in Iraq and Syria, a U.S. intelligence official told VOA on condition of anonymity. Of those, at least 6,000 are Westerners. Those numbers were up from previous estimates issued in October 2015, when officials said there were more than 30,000 foreign fighters from at least 115 countries, including more than 4,500 from the West.

According to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), based at Kings College London, by August 2014 there were up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria alone. At that time Belgian security services estimated that the number of European jihadists in Syria may be over 4000.

By one report [providing impossibly precise numbers], between "396 and 1,937 are thought to come from western Europe, with the highest concentration from Belgium. Up to 296 Belgians are fighting in Syria, 27 per capita, compared to a high estimate of 50 from Italy and 1 per capita. In western Europe, France has the highest number of foreign fighters in Syria - 412 - followed by the UK with up to 366."

In June 2014, Tunisia's interior minister estimated that at least 2,400 Tunisians were fighting in Syria, mostly as members of the Islamic State. On 13 August 2014 Moroccan Interior Minister, Mohamed Hassad, identified 1,221 Moroccan citizens who had joined jihadists groups in Syria and Iraq, as well as another 2,000 ethnic Moroccans who are citizens of other countries, including Spain. By one estimate there are about 2,000 Jordanians who have joined IS or other Islamist groups fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Italian media reported in August 2014 that around 50 Italians had been recruited by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), the majority from non-immigrant families. On 14 August 2014 French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told France Info radio that "There are today nearly 900 from France who are part of this phenomenon, either in the theater of operations in Syria or in Iraq. There are presumably some in Iraq because ISIS, which recruited them, takes them to all the places where it is engaged in combat". Throughout the summer of 2013, more than 200 Australians were reported to have joined the Syrian rebel forces fighting against President Bashar al-Assad.

The number of Americans fighting with ISIS is variously estimated from 50 to over 300. FBI Director James Comey said 25 September 2014 about a dozen Americans were believed to be in Syria now fighting with extremist groups, Comey said, adding that more than 100 Americans had either been intercepted and arrested while trying to reach Syria, or had returned to the US after joining the Syrian conflict.

In all, hundreds of fighters from Russias North Caucasus, where Chechnya is located, and other Russian-speaking regions are believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, alongside the Islamic State and al-Qaida-linked groups like the Al-Nusra Front. The Chechens arent the largest group among the thousands of foreigners in Syria, but they may be playing an outsized role, as many, battle-hardened by years fighting Russian forces, help spearhead the Islamic States sweeping successes through Syria and Iraq.

Matthew G. Olsen, the outgoing head of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) testified September 17, 2014 "The flow of more than 15,000 foreign fighters to Syria with varying degrees of access to Europe and the United States heightens our concern as these individuals may eventually return to their home countries battle-hardened, radicalized, and determined to attack us.

The gunman who staged the attack on a Jewish deli in January 2015 appeared in a video released online two days later, declaring his allegiance to the Islamic State armed group. I pledged allegiance to the Caliph as soon as the caliphate was declared. The siege at the Paris deli claimed the lives of four hostages. He had also called BFM-TV to claim allegiance to the Islamic State group, saying he wanted to defend Palestinians and target Jews.

In December 2015, Richard Barrett, who was formerly head of global counter-terrorism at Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, known as MI6, estimated that Islamist groups had more than doubled the recruitment of foreign fighters to as much as 31,000 over the previous 18 months. "The Islamic State has seen success beyond the dreams of other terrorist groups that now appear conventional and even old-fashioned, such as al-Qaida." "Despite sustained international effort to contain the Islamic State and stem the flow of militants traveling to Syria, the number of foreign fighters has more than doubled," Barrett said. The headline estimate of 27,000-31,000 foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria and Iraq compares to an estimate of 12,000 foreign fighters who had journeyed to Syria that Barrett made in June 2014.

Militants in Syria have attracted fighters from across 86 different countries ranging from Norway to Uzbekistan, with steep increases from the Middle East, North Africa and the former Soviet Union. Around 6,000 fighters from Tunisia have gone to Syria, 2,500 from Saudi Arabia and 2,400 from Russia, according to Barrett, while about 5,000 had traveled from the European Union.

A December 2015 report, titled "ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa," was an attempt by the George Washington University's Program on Extremism to provide a snapshot of the "small but active" group of Americans and other US-based individuals who are infatuated with the Sunni Muslim extremist group. Although the overwhelming majority - 87% - were male, more and more women were becoming attracted to the group.

Many, as could be expected, were religious radicals, some having formally studied Islam. Forty percent were Muslim converts. Others appeared to have little to no experience with the faith, instead appearing to be thrill seekers drawn to the savage violence committed by IS. Some recruits appear to be drawn to the group in part because of political causes, cultural differences, or feelings of disenfranchisement with American culture. In other cases, individuals began to support IS following traumatic, life-changing events.

In February 2016, US National Intelligence Director James Clapper estimated that more than 36,000 foreign fighters from 120 countries have joined Daesh in Syria and Iraq since 2012. Of those, about 6,600 Islamic volunteers came from western countries.

ISIL had a force in Iraq and Syria of just 19,000 to 25,000 fighters according to the most recent assessment, the White House said February 04, 2016. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne called it the lowest assessed range since we began conducting rigorous reviews of the groups manpower. Earlier estimates had put the number of IS frontline fighters at anywhere from 20,000 to 32,000, including what defense officials said were about 17,500 hardcore members. The new, lower estimate reflects a variety of factors, including battlefield deaths, desertions and recruiting shortfalls. They continue to be a substantial threat, but the potential numbers have declined, said White House spokesman Josh Earnest. ISIL is having more difficulty than theyve had before in replenishing their ranks.

The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq and Syria to join Islamic State has plunged to a tiny fraction of those entering a year ago, a U.S. general said 26 april 2016. Maj. Gen. Peter Gersten, Deputy Commander for Operations and Intelligence for the U.S.-led coalition fighting IS, told reporters via teleconference from Baghdad that there were between 1,500 and 2,000 foreign fighters entering Iraq and Syria each month when he deployed to Baghdad in mid-2015. Now that weve been fighting this enemy for a year, our estimates are down to around 200 [per month],said Gersten.

The coalition also has seen an increase in desertion rates by Islamic State fighters, along with a failure by the militant group to pay its fighters, according to the general. Were seeing the inability to fight. Were watching them try to leave Daesh (Islamic State), and in every single way their morale is being broken, he said, using a term reflecting the Arab acronym for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The inflow of foreign fighters traveling to join Daesh on the battlefield has dropped by 75 percent, Operations Inherent Resolve spokesperson Col. Steve Warren said during a press briefing on 13 May 2016. "We access that the number of foreign fighters entering the combat zone each month has decreased possibly by as much as 75 percent," Warren stated. The spokesperson argued that Daesh was unable to deliver on its promise to create a functioning state, which diminished the appeal of the so-called caliphate. The spokesperson said the Coalition attributes the reduction of fighters to a number of factors, including allies military gains on the ground, improved border security and counter-recruitment efforts.

"There was upward of 2,000 [foreign fighters] a month that were coming into Syria and moving into Iraq," Colonel Chris Garver, a spokesman for the coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, told reporters 29 June 2016. "We think that the flow is now down to somewhere around between 200 and 500."

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Page last modified: 01-07-2016 13:17:47 ZULU