Foreign jihadists from more than 80 countries have flocked to fight in Iraq and Syria on an ‘unprecedented scale’, according to extracts of a UN report.
UK Daily Mail Around 15,000 people have travelled to fight alongside Islamic State (ISIS) and other hardcore militant groups from ‘countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to Al Qaeda,’ it said.
The study found a new breed of terrorist was being attracted by the extremist group’s ‘cosmopolitan’ use of social media, pointing to examples when jihadists posted ‘kitten photographs’ on Twitter. ISIS leaders recognise ‘the terror and recruitment value of multi-channel, multi-language social and other media messaging,’ it added.
The number of foreign jihadists travelling to fight since 2010 exceeds the cumulative total of the 20 preceding years ‘many times’, the Security Council study found. ‘There are instances of foreign terrorist fighters from France, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland operating together,’ the report said, according to the Guardian.
Britain’s top police officer, Bernard Hogan-Howe, estimated last week that five people a week were leaving the country to fight with ISIS. Security officials estimate there are currently around 500 British nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq. Dozens have been arrested for preparing to leave to join the IS group or helping others to do so.
France is also moving closer to adopting an ‘anti-terrorism’ law which would slap a travel ban on anyone suspected of planning to wage jihad. The UN warned that more nations than ever face the problem of dealing with fighters returning from the battle zone.
The US Central Intelligence Agency last month announced figures showing that there were around 20,000 to 31,500 ISIS fighters active in Iraq and Syria, much higher than previous estimates. A US security official estimated that there were close to 2,000 westerners among the 15,000 foreign fighters.
Previous figures showed there were 7,000 foreign jihadists fighting in March and 12,000 in July suggesting 1,000 a month were travelling to fight, despite the launch of U.S. air strikes three months ago, although there is a lag of a few weeks in the figures.
The report was produced by a committee that monitors Al Qaeda and concluded that the once mighty and feared group was now ‘maneuvering for relevance’ following the rise of the even more militant ISIS, which was booted out of Al Qaeda by leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Despite the split, the UN concluded that the legal basis for US President Barack Obama’s fight against ISIS was justified by its ideological congruence with Al Qaeda and considered the two groups as part of a broader movement.