ANF – News Desk 02.12.2013 – Writing in The Monkey Cage blog, political scientist Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said the number of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria is historically unprecedented.
Hegghammer put the total number of foreign fighters in Syria to over 1,100 (low estimates) with the high estimates bringing the figure to over 1,700. He lists 12 countries as probably the main “suppliers” of foreign fighters to Syria, with France, Germany, UK and Belgium and Holland being the main “suppliers”.
“We can thus say with high confidence – argues Hegghammer – that at least 1,200 European Muslims have gone to Syria since the start of the war. This is a remarkable figure; we are talking about the largest European Muslim foreign fighter contingent to any conflict in modern history”.
In a previous study, Hegghammer tried to answer some questions: Why do some Western jihadists attack at home while others fight abroad? Moreover, if jihadists are so keen to attack the West, why do some of them leave, given that they are already “behind enemy lines”? He tried to answer by looking at where Western jihadists have chosen to fight over the years and why.
His five main findings were:
– Foreign fighting is by far the most common activity. Foreign fighters outnumber domestic attackers by at least 3 to 1 (over 900 vs. 300 individuals over 20 years).
– Western jihadists seem to prefer foreign fighting for normative reasons. They heed religious authorities who consider fighting in warzones more legitimate than killing civilians in Western cities.
– Most foreign fighters appear not to leave with the intention to train for a domestic operation. However, a minority do acquire this motivation after their departure.
– Most foreign fighters never return for domestic plots. At most 1 in 9 foreign fighters came home to roost. Those foreign fighters who do return are significantly more effective operatives than non-veterans. They act as entrepreneurs and concoct plots that are twice as likely to kill.