Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

Estimates Rising of Foreign Fighters in Iraq, Syria

In-Depth Coverage

by Jeff Seldin December 24, 2014

Foreign fighters are making more of a mark on the battles raging across Syria and Iraq than initially thought.

U.S. intelligence officials estimate that more than 18,000 foreign fighters now have flocked to the region — up from about 16,000 at the start of November. An estimate by the National Counter Terrorism Center in September had put the number of foreign fighters at more than 15,000.

The number of Western passport holders joining the fight also has grown, to at least 3,000. Earlier estimates had put the number of Westerners fighting in Iraq and Syria at about 2,700.

Officials caution the higher estimates do not mean, however, there are necessarily more fighters on the battlefield.

“Countries are scrutinizing suspect travel more closely,” an intelligence official told VOA on the condition of anonymity. “So, more foreign fighters are being captured in the count.”

Just recently, the government in Jakarta raised its estimate of Indonesian fighters in Syria from 300 to 350, telling VOA’s Indonesian Service better information on the use of aliases and on Indonesians living abroad was a key factor.

‘The problem is their IDs are not identical with their aliases. Therefore, we have to crosscheck them for validation,’ said Wawan Purwanto, an expert with Indonesia’s Anti-Terrorism Management Agency [BNPT].

U.S. intelligence officials say most of the foreign fighters heading to Iraq or Syria seem to be intent on joining with the Islamic State, although many are still fighting with the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front or with other groups.

There also is hope that the flow of foreign fighters to the region will begin to subside.

“The Europeans and other allies are taking steps to stem the flow of their citizens to Syria and Iraq, while the Turks are trying harder to keep their borders from being exploited by jihadists,” the U.S. intelligence official said. “It could be a while for the dampening effect of these measures to start showing up in the foreign fighter intelligence estimates.”
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)
Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL] declared itself an “Islamic caliphate” on 29 June 2014, led by Caliph Ibrahim. This came as many of the world’s estimated 1.6 billion Muslims started observing the holy month of Ramadan. ISIL spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani said the caliphate will extend from the northern Syrian city of Aleppo to Diyala Province in Iraq. He described the establishment of the caliphate as “the dream in all the Muslims” and “the hope of all jihadists.” They removed ‘Iraq and the Levant’ from their name and urged other radical Sunni groups to pledge their allegiance. ISIL announced that it should now be called ‘The Islamic State’ and declared its chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as “the caliph” of the new state and “leader for Muslims everywhere,” the radical Sunni militant group said in an audio recording distributed online on Sunday. This is the first time since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 that a Caliph – which meant a political successor to Prophet Muhammad – had been declared.

The State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, Brett McGurk, described ISIL as “a full-blown army” and “worse than al-Qaida” – with a potential reach far beyond the Middle East. In testimony on 24 July 2014 he said “ISIL is able to funnel 30 to 50 suicide bombers a month into Iraq. We assess these are almost all foreign fighters” he said. “It would be very easy for ISIL to decide to funnel that cadre of dedicated suicide bombers – global jihadists – into other capitals around the region, or Europe, or, worse, here [in the United States].”

A former CIA officer warned 04 September 2014 that sleeper cells of the ISIL terror group were already in the United States and capable of launching an attack on the homeland. “The people who collect tactical intelligence on the ground, day-to-day – and this isn’t Washington – but people collecting this stuff say they’re here, ISIS is here, they’re capable of striking,” Bob Baer told CNN. Baer said that some American citizens who had been to Syria to fight alongside ISIL were now back in the United States by crossing the Mexican border. US intelligence agents were aware of some people they suspect of being ISIL members and were working to gather evidence to arrest them, Baer said, adding that there are concerns about “the unknown…. They don’t know what their plans and intentions are. But it’s a definite concern… They’re waiting to get enough intelligence to actually run them in… “And then there’s the unknown, of how many people have come back they’re not even aware of.”

Sheikh Ali Abu Muhammad ad-Dagestani, the new leader of the Imarat Kavkaz (Caucasus Emirate or IK), noted: “When jihad began in Shama, we were overjoyed, first, because we studied Islamic sciences in Shama, but second because we studied the hadiths which tell about the achievements of Shama, about the fact that in the end-time of troubles the faith will be in Shama, that Allah’s angels will spread their wings over Shama, that the best land is in Shama, and that the Heavenly Group will be in Shama at the end of time.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant aims to establish an Islamic state in the regions it controls in eastern Syria and western Iraq. It aims to control at least the Sunni part of Iraq, and much of Syria and Lebanon. The emergence of a radical jihadist state in the heart of the Arab world would threaten the US, and American allies in the Middle East and Europe. In the long term the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant wants to be a global power, and, with the resources it is acquiring, the West and its allies face a difficult job to stop it.

There are signs it was backed by former military officers and other members of Saddam Hussein’s regime — including the Naqshabandi Army led by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former regime’s number two leader who eluded US and Iraqi forces ever since the 2003 US-led invasion. The reinvigorated Ba’athist Party, known as the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqah al-Naqshabandia (JRTN), clings to Baathist ideology and often mix it with Islamic sufi ideology. JRTN and the ISIL worked together in Fallujah, where they have been battling government troops since January 2014. In conjunction with ISIL they were able to take Mosul. Overwhelmingly a majority of the fighters under the ISIL banner are Iraqi.

ISIL continued to gain strength from the struggle in Syria resulting in an overflow of recruits, sophisticated munitions and other resources to the fight in Iraq. The threat that ISIL is presenting is not just a threat to Iraq or the stability of Iraq, but it is a threat to the region. The states of Iraq and Syria are not able to control major population centers and have lost control of huge countryside areas. This meant that ISIL control territory, border crossing points, oil resources, mineral resources, and trade income. They have a base in the middle of the Middle East, and can organize and carry out their goals in larger parts of the Middle East.

A statement attributed to Al-Qaida posted 03 February 2014 on websites frequently used by al-Qaida announced it was severing ties with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL [the authenticity of the statement could not be independently verified]. The move was seen as an attempt to redirect the Islamist effort towards unseating President Bashar al-Assad rather than waste resources in fighting other rebels. ISIL has fought battles with other Islamist insurgents and secular rebel groups, often triggered by disputes over authority and territory. Several secular and Islamist groups announced a campaign in January 2014 against ISIL.

SITE (Search for International Terrorist Entities) reported 23 January 2007 that the Islamic State of Iraq issued a document titled: “The Legality of the Flag in Islam,” which contains the image of its flag and information to its symbolism, today, Tuesday, January 23, 2007. Text on the flag reading, “No God, but Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger,” are the words contained on the flag of the Prophet Muhammad that he carried into battle and handed to generations of bearers. The Islamic State provides evidence and legitimacy for this banner from Islamic scholars, and goes into detail regarding opinions of the flag’s material, title, and significance. According to the group the circular shape matches the ring stamp of the Prophet found on many scripts, and the order of the words are to indicate the supremacy of Allah over the Messenger.

This flag, the group prays, is to be the flag for all Muslims, especially the people of Iraq. The Islamic State of Iraq was established to protect the Sunni Iraqi people and defend Islam, by the Pact of the Scented People. It is composed of a variety of insurgency groups, including the Mujahideen Shura Council in Iraq, Conquering Army [Jeish al-Fatiheen], Army Squad of the Prophet Muhammad [Jund al-Sahaba], Brigades of al-Tawhid Wal Sunnah, and Sunni tribes. It claims a presence in the governorates of Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din, Ninawa, and parts of Babel and Wasit, and is headed by the Emir of the Believers, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

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