What do a handful of foreign fighters in Syria have in common? They could care less about Syria.
A report released today by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point provides a unique glimpse into the psyches of four foreign fighters from Algeria, France, Russia and Saudi Arabia, all of whom have been fighting against Syrian government forces. The fighters are “generally unconcerned with ultimate political outcomes from the Syrian civil war or their own long-term prospects and well-being. They are all living in the moment,” the reports says.
The number of foreign fighters in Syria is believed to have increased significantly over the several past months, with many of them joining up with the Islamic State, the group that was formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and that has seized ever-more territory in those two countries.
Radicalized foreign fighters have become an increasingly problematic domestic issue as intelligence services have had a difficult time tracking returning foreign fighters’ movements and activities once they return to their home country. Dozens of fighters from the United States have traveled to Syria and then returned home, according to U.S. officials, while hundreds of Europeans have done the same.
The rebel fighters see the war in Syria as part of a broader conflict, specifically involving Palestine and Jerusalem, the CTC report said.
“After Syria, in case we will still be alive, we will head to Golan and then straight to Jerusalem. Jerusalem has been disconnected from the Islamic attention for over 60 years. It is downright shameful to leave it occupied,” said the fighter from Algeria, who like the others interviewed for the report was unnamed.
The fighters also said they planned to die fighting. “Going back. That’s impossible! How could I leave such a glorious life and return to the animalistic one? Never!” the foreign fighter from France said.
Among the most troubling elements of the report was its conclusion — unlike their moderate counterparts, the foreign fighters were uninterested in political reconciliation and would keep fighting after any conclusion to the Syrian conflict.
These “four foreign fighters claim that they will never disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate into society should the Syrian conflict be resolved,” the report says. “They are deeply committed and will continue to pursue other avenues for jihad if they cannot realize their goals in Syria.”