For the past month, Western intelligence officials have discreetly sounded the warning bells. Both through media leaks and official testimonies, French, Canadian, and UK officials have indicated that the flow of Westerners traveling to Syria to join the radical Islamist insurgency is increasing at a alarming pace.
Tracking Terrorism With these revelations, the specter of a foreign fighters-induced blowback resurfaces. The blowback theory goes like this: foreigners travel to a conflict zone where they undergo ideological radicalization and gain military training, which they subsequently use to launch terrorist plots in their homeland. Based on historical patterns, there are very legitimate reasons to be concerned.
Compared to previous jihads, the flow of foreign fighters streaming into Syria is unprecedented. Consequently, the task of identifying and monitoring returning fighters to identify the ones prone to engaging in terrorism is expanding and becoming more complex. Although a reliable head count is difficult to establish, most estimates put the number of foreign fighters in Syria between 5,000 and 11,000 since 2011, and generally consider that foreign volunteer comprise 10% of the rebel forces combating Bashar al-Assad. According to various estimates, 200 French fighters are believed to be in Syria while another 200 are thought to be in transit;over 100 Canadians are estimated to be fighting in Syria; and between 200 to 350 Britons have travelled to the country with the intention of becoming foreign fighters.