— The Erimtan Angle —

In the Telegraph, Louisa Loveluck writes that “[t]housands of foreign fighters have travelled to Iraq and Syria in the year since Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (Isil) lightning sweep through the two territories”.[1]

Loveluck continues that “[a]ccording to the most recent publicly available estimates, released by King’s College London’s International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation [ICSR] in January [2015], Tunisia has contributed the largest contingent, with some estimates putting the figure as high as 3,000. The foreign loyalists can expect to join fighting battalions, or even take up positions in the extremist group’s extensive bureaucracy, which implements Islamic law and harvests taxes across its territory. Saudi Arabia – a country battling Isil terrorism against Shia residents in its eastern province – is thought to be the second most prolific source of foreign fighters, with up to 2,500 people believed to have joined the fray in Iraq and Syria” and adding that “[n]early a fifth of fighters are residents or nationals of Western European countries,and an estimated 1,200 people have travelled from France alone”.[2]

The ICSR Director Peter R. Neumann declared that the “number of foreigners that have joined Sunni militant organizations in the Syria/Iraq conflict continues to rise. According to ICSR’s latest estimate, the total now exceeds 20,000 – of which nearly a fifth were residents or nationals of Western European countries. The figures were produced in collaboration with the Munich Security Conference and will be included in the Munich Security Report – a new, annual digest on key developments in security and foreign policy. They include estimates for 50 countries for which sufficient data and/or reliable government estimates were available. Southeast Asia remains a blind spot. Countries with 5 or less confirmed cases were omitted. With the exception of some Middle Eastern countries, all figures are based on data from the second half of 2014 and refer to the total number of travelers over the course of the entire conflict . . . Based on the 14 countries for which reliable data is available, we estimate that the number of foreigners from Western European countries has risen to almost 4,000. This is nearly double the figure we presented in December 2013, and exceeds the latest estimates by European Union officials. The largest European countries – France, the UK, and Germany – also produce the largest numbers of fighters. Relative to population size, the most heavily affected countries are Belgium, Denmark, and Sweden”.[3]

A joint ICSR and BBC Publish Global Survey of Jihadist Violence indicates that in “the course of just one month, jihadists carried out 664 attacks, killing 5,042 people– the equivalent of three attacks per day on the scale of the London bombings in July 2005. The overall picture is that of an increasingly ambitious, complex, sophisticated and far-reaching movement – one that seems to be in the middle of a transformation: GEOGRAPHY: Though Islamic State is the most deadly group and the conflict in Syria and Iraq the ‘battle zone’ with the largest number of recorded fatalities, jihadist groups carried out attacks in 13 other countries. In just one month, they were responsible for nearly 800 deaths each in Nigeria and Afghanistan, as well as hundreds in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. VICTIMS: Excluding incidents of jihadist infighting, 51 per cent of jihadist fatalities were civilian. If government officials, policemen and other non-combatants are included, the figure rises to 57 per cent. Based on context and location, the vast majority of victims is Muslim. TACTICS: While jihadist violence used to be associated with mass casualty bombings – such as the ones in New York, Madrid and London – today’s jihadists employ a much greater variety of tactics, ranging from classical terrorism to more or less conventional operations. In our data, ‘bombings’ were outnumbered by shootings, ambushes, and shelling, reflecting the increased emphasis on holding territory and confronting conventional forces. GROUPS: More than 60 per cent of the jihadist deaths were caused by groups that have no formal relationship with al Qaeda. Though al Qaeda and its affiliates – especially Jabhat al Nusra in Syria and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – still play an important role, the data shows that treating ‘jihadism’ and al Qaeda as one and the same is less true than ever. The scale of jihadist activity that is captured in this report reminds us to be cautious in our judgment of historical trends. Less than four years ago, jihadism – then predominantly in the form of al Qaeda – was widely believed to be dead or dying. The report demonstrates that there can be no quick fixes for what is a generational challenge that needs to be countered not just through military means but political will, economic resources, and a readiness to challenge the ideas and beliefs that are driving its expansion”.[4]

[2] Louisa Loveluck, “Islamic State, one year on: Where do its fighters come from?” Telegraph (08 June 2015). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/islamic-state/11660487/Islamic-State-one-year-on-Where-do-its-fighters-come-from.html.

[2] Louisa Loveluck, “Islamic State, one year on: Where do its fighters come from?”.

[3] Peter R. Neumann, “Foreign fighter total in Syria/Iraq now exceeds 20,000; surpasses Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s” ICSR (26 Jan 2015). http://icsr.info/2015/01/foreign-fighter-total-syriairaq-now-exceeds-20000-surpasses-afghanistan-conflict-1980s/.

[4] “ICSR and BBC Publish Global Survey of Jihadist Violence” ICSR (10 Dec 2014). http://icsr.info/2014/12/icsr-bbc-publish-global-survey-jihadist-violence/.

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