Terrorists from 81 nations trigger Syria insurgency

Terrorists from 81 nations trigger Syria insurgency
Sat Aug 30, 2014 14:01:53

The Soufan Group, a New York-based intelligence firm, has estimated that there have been at least 12,000 foreign militants from 81 countries in the Syrian conflict, including some 3,000 European nationals.

It's estimated that the three-year conflict in Syria has drawn foreign terrorists to its frontlines at a rate faster than any such war in modern memory, including the struggle of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. The group that likely boasts the majority of such terror elements is the Takfiri ISIL terrorist group, which it said "commands a stretch of territory from central Syria to the environs of Iraq's capital, Baghdad."

The presence of these foreign extremists has dominated media attention of late. Earlier this week, reports emerged of an American fighter slain in Syria in a battle with another extremist faction. On Thursday, the White House identified nearly a dozen Americans believed to have joined the foreign-backed insurgency in Syria.

This is while a British national is suspected of beheading American journalist James Foley this month, while a pair of Australians have gained notoriety for their habit of posting selfies on social media of them grinning while clutching the severed heads of Syrian soldiers.

Given the ISIL ascendance — and its slick online recruitment operation — it's probable that the bulk of the Western terrorists are in its ranks. The Economist published a handy graphic of the breakdown this week. The New York Times reported Friday that more than 100 Americans have participated in the conflict in Syria, according to US intelligence officials. The Independent, meanwhile, says that a quarter of the roughly 2,000 European terrorists in the ISIL ranks are from Britain.

For months now, European governments have wrung their hands over the consequence of this migration and the threat of radicalized terrorists returning home, spreading their extremism and plotting terror attacks.

The ISIL brutal murder of Foley was a sign that the West is in its crosshairs, even as it wages battles on multiple fronts against rival militias and governments in Iraq and Syria. On Friday, British Prime Minister David Cameron sounded the alarm, warning that the fight against the ISIL militancy would take "years and probably decades."

As the map above shows, the geographical spread of foreign militants in the war is vast, implicating even Japan and Singapore, countries most would think are alien to the turmoil of the Middle East. ISIL recruitment videos have been translated into myriad languages, including Urdu, Tamil, and Bahasa Indonesia.

Still, the majority of foreign militants in the conflict, as the Economist's chart shows, are from Arab countries. A deep dive into the workings of the ISIL by the Times shows that the organization relies on local support, largely drawn from Takfiris.

Moreover, loyalists from the defunct Ba'ath Party of Iraq's toppled dictator Saddam Hussein — an institution that was nominally secular —  are thought to be enmeshed within the ISIL current command structure in Iraq.

At the same time, the ISIL continues its hideous butchery of captured soldiers and religious and ethnic minorities now trapped in its de facto domain. That foreigners are playing an outsize role in its most barbaric acts ought to be a chilling sign for world leaders elsewhere, struggling for a strategy to counter this growing threat.


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