Historically unprecedented number of
European Muslim fighters in Syria
by Benjamin Weinthal, jpost.com, Nov. 29, 2013
New data uncovered about the level of fighters from overlooked European countries such as Austria, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.
BERLIN – A leading European expert on security and counterterrorism published an analysis on a range of countries that have sent radical Islamic fighters to overthrow the Syrian Regime, on Wednesday.
Thomas Hegghammer, a political scientist with the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, wrote in The Washington Post that “the number of European fighters in Syria may exceed the total number of Muslim foreign fighters from all Western countries to all conflicts between 1990 and 2010 (that the above-mentioned study estimated to just under a thousand). And we are only 2.5 years into the Syrian war.”
Hegghammer uncovered new data about the level of fighters from overlooked European countries such as Austria, Denmark, Belgium and Norway.
“These countries have produced a high number of foreign fighters,” Shiraz Maher, the senior research fellow and head of the outreach at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) at Kings College London, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview on Thursday.
Maher said the numbers from the smaller European countries were dramatic. He attributed the spike in numbers to the rise of Salafists movements in those countries.
Syria attracts fighters from North Africa who speak the language and know the culture.
Denmark and Belgium, for example, have a high proportion of citizens from North Africa.
He said that many of the British Muslims fighting in Syria are from southeast Asia and do not speak Arabic.
According to Hegghammer’s analysis, between 200 and 400 French Muslims left for Syria.
Germany showed 200 Muslims departing for Syria. The UK number was between 200 and 300 fighters. Belgium, which has a significantly smaller population than France, Germany and the UK, showed between 100 and 300 combatants in Syria. Denmark’s number was 65 and Austria 57, both of which have considerably small populations. As many as 40 Norwegian Muslims traveled to Syria.
France, Germany and the UK may have the largest foreign fighter contingents in Syria, but Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Austria have contributed a much higher proportion of their population, wrote Hegghammer.
Hegghammer said “we can thus say with high confidence that at least 1,200 European Muslims have gone to Syria since the start of the war. This is a remarkable figure; we are talking about the largest European Muslim foreign fighter contingent to any conflict in modern history.”
Hegghammer warned about the dangers of returning Jihadists to Europe and the lack of counter-terrorism resources to combat the threat.
Maher told the Post that some of the European fighters who return will be “profoundly psychologically disturbed people.”
He warned that some of the fighters will have terrorist skill sets and the capability to build improvised explosive devices.
He said you will have after 9/11 a situation in Europe where new terrorist networks are being “repopulated.”