Despite major efforts to curtail Islamic State recruiting and the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, the numbers show no signs of slowing down. In less than a year, those traveling to Syria to join the Islamic State and to fight against them has surged, according to a study by the Soufan Group.
The U.S. government has estimated about 30,000 recruits from 100 different countries. This breakdown shows where the recruits are coming from, and according to the report, "more evidence of community-based recruitment in countries with the highest numbers of foreign fighters, where groups of acquaintances are drawn into a common identity."
The sources of increase:
Russia and the former Soviet countries have been a source for an astonishing rise of fighters, where the number have increased by about 300 percent. Most of these recruits from Russia's Chechnya and Dagestan, but also from neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan, a country that accounts for more than 100 recruits.
Other alarming figures are from Tunisia, where 3,000 figures are now officially estimated at twice that number. In the Middle East, 2014 estimates of 3,000 have almost tripled.
The reason for this rise isn't because of social media, one of the Islamic State's main recruitment methods. According to the report:
While the power of the Islamic State’s social media outreach is undeniable, it appears more often to prepare the ground for persuasion, rather than to force the decision. There are few places on earth in which the group’s message and imagery cannot be seen or heard, and its ubiquitous reach has led to the recruitment of individuals from Algeria to Uzbekistan. Yet, as hotbeds develop, recruitment through social media becomes less important than via direct human contact, as clusters of friends and neighbors persuade each other to travel separately or together to join the Islamic State.
Out of the more than 5,000 foreign fighters who have traveled to Syria from the European Union, a majority of them come from just four countries: France, Germany, Belguim and the United Kingdom. According to the report, "[m]any, though by no means all, of the recruits to the Islamic State, particularly from Northern Europe, have a record of minor criminality and may have spent time in prison."
There are neighborhoods that are major areas of recruitment, including Norway's Fredrikstad and Derna in Libya. Brussels's Molenbeek district drew major attention last month when the some responsible for the Paris attacks lived there. From the Post's Steve Mufson, shortly after the attacks:
Molenbeek also has unemployment perhaps as high as 30 or 40 percent and an average income that lags far behind Belgium overall. It has more than its share of seedy blocks, shabby homes and bad schools. More important, perhaps, the neighborhood stands in sharp contrast with the nearby wealthier residents of Brussels. And it is a 45-minute walk and a world away from the formidable buildings that are home to the European Union, a trip virtually no one from Molenbeek ever makes.
While most countries showed a major increase in fighters traveling to Syria, the United States didn't see a major surge. Even in a country like Pakistan, where militants joining the Islamic State have increased, the country hasn't seen much of a rise. As the Post's Tim Craig reports, "Even as the Islamic State gains strength in neighboring Afghanistan, there have been only scattered signs that it is gaining followers in this nuclear-armed country of 180 million."