Foreign Fighters Keep Flocking To ISIS, Other Extremist Groups

A new report shows the number of people who've traveled to fight with ISIS and other extremist groups in Iraq and Syria has doubled in little more than a year

Dec 07, 2015 at 8:10 PM ET

The number of foreign jihadists who’ve traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other violent extremist groups has more than doubled in the last 18 months, according to a new report from the Soufan Group, a security intelligence firm.

As many as 31,000 men and women have now been recruited from at least 86 countries, according to the report. The Soufan Group first quantified the flow of foreign fighters into Syria and Iraq in June 2014. At that time, it found only about 12,000.

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The latest tally reflects how hard it’s been for some nations to halt the flow of would-be militants from joining the terror group’s self-declared caliphate, said Patrick Skinner, director of special projects at the Soufan Group. It is also evidence of ISIS’ enduring appeal, despite its brutal violence and ongoing efforts by a U.S.-led coalition to destroy it.

A large proportion of the foreign fighters has come from only a few countries. An estimated 6,000 have come from Tunisia. 2,500 are said to have traveled from Saudi Arabia, 2,400 from Russia, between 2,200 and 2,400 from Turkey and more than 2,000 from Jordan.

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That doesn’t mean there aren’t many foreign fighters coming from elsewhere in the world, though. In fact, according to the report, the number of fighters who’ve traveled to Syria and Iraq from Western Europe has more than doubled since June 2014. To date, at least 1,700 jihadists have come from France. Meanwhile, Germany and the United Kingdom have each been home to around 760 recruits.

“In light of Paris, this is truly alarming,” Skinner said.

By contrast, very few people from the United States have traveled to Syria to fight, or even attempted to. FBI Director James Comey has previously put the count of people who’ve tried to go from the U.S. to Syria, successfully or not, at 250.