Number Of Foreign Fighters In Iraq And Syria Has Doubled

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Over the last 18 months, the number of foreign fighters in Syria and in Iraq has doubled, according to a study by the Soufan Group. According to their report, between 27,000 and 31,000 fighters from over 86 countries have traveled to the region to join ISIS and other groups. Of them, around 5,000 come from Western Europe, with 3,700 coming from just four countries: Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. At least half, over 16,000 fighters, have come from the Middle East and Northern Africa.

In a study conducted in the summer of 2014, researchers estimated that around 12,000 foreign fighters were operating in the region. The sharp increase indicates that international efforts to stem the flow of people eager to join the fighting have been ineffective.

While the number of fighters coming from North America has remained “relatively flat,” the report estimates a 300% increase in in fighters coming from Russia and Central Asia since June 2014.

Molenbeek during the terror alert in Brussels

ISIS’s use of online propaganda has been under intense scrutiny recently, however the researchers say that localised, face-to-face, focused recruitment played the biggest role and has been far more successful. They emphasised the role of Bizerte and Ben Gardane in Tunisia, as well as Derna, Libya, as key hotbed of terrorist recruitment. In comparison, the Molenbeek suburb of Brussels, where several of the Paris attackers come from, as well as participants in the 2004 Madrid bombings, is described as a “newcomer to the production of foreign fighters.”