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Report Shows Number Of Foreign Fighters Joining ISIS Has DOUBLED In A Year

REUTERS/Social media via Reuters TV

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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U.S. airstrikes and Russian military activity against the Islamic State haven’t deterred foreign fighters from leaving their countries and joining the terror group.

According to a new report from The Soufan Group (TSG), the number of foreign fighters joining ISIS and other Salafist groups in the region has doubled in just a year, moving from 12,000 to a minimum of 27,000. TSG’s report back in 2014 found the fighters traveled from 81 countries. This time around, the number of countries has inched upwards to 86.

The number of foreign fighters may be as high as 31,000, indicating that ISIS’ propaganda continues to triumph over 18 months of Western counter-propaganda, military campaigns and internal efforts to block the flow of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq.

But that failure is not uniformly distributed. In North America, the number of foreign fighters leaving has remained relatively constant. U.S. federal authorities have launched 900 investigations in all 50 states into individuals who support ISIS.

In Europe, however, that number has doubled since June 2014. Russia is a significant contributor of fighters, sending an estimated 2,400 fighters, up from 800 in 2014.

The attrition rate of foreign fighters who try and return to Western countries is incredibly high, coming in at around 20-30 percent. Even though the fighters are now back in Western hands, disillusionment with ISIS does not mean an end to radicalization. Further, returning from ISIS does not always entail disillusionment, and instead may function as part of a larger strategy to run recruiting or terror operations. Little information is available on motivations for returning, but it does serve to add extra strain on law enforcement agencies.

“This suggests that the motivation for people to join violent extremist groups in Syria and Iraq remains more personal than political,” the report notes. “Although much of the propaganda put out by the Islamic State focuses  on the civilian casualties arising from the military campaign waged against it, the majority of its video production appeals to those who seek a new beginning rather than revenge for past acts. A search for belonging, purpose, adventure, and friendship, appear to remain the main reasons for people to join the Islamic State.”

ISIS propaganda over social media provides the foundation, but ultimately, on-the-ground social networks are what cause recruits to leave their places of residence and move to Syria and Iraq.

TSG is neither hopeful that the war in Syria will end any time soon, nor does it expect ISIS to wither away in a short period of time.

As a result of ISIS consolidating control over territory, most Americans now believeit’s time for the United States to put boots on the ground in the region, according to a recent CNN/ORC poll.

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