Mara Revkin writes: If there is such a thing as a stereotypical jihadist, Ahmed is not it. The 22-year-old Egyptian Salafi tweets prolifically from his iPad, quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., and works part-time for a successful alternative media start-up company.
Like a lot of college students, Ahmed loves road trips. But unlike most Egyptians his age, Ahmed’s last journey was to a war zone – Syria – where he spent six weeks fighting with rebel forces against Bashar al-Assad’s entrenched regime. Ahmed is one of a growing number of mujahideen (predominately Sunni guerrilla fighters) traveling from Egypt, Tunisia, and as far as Croatia and Pakistan to volunteer with the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
The United Nations estimates that the number of foreign combatants on the ground may lie in the hundreds, but anecdotal reports indicate that the true figure may be in the thousands and growing. On September 17, the United Nations expressed concern that the influx of foreign fighters could be contributing to the radicalization of rebel forces. The head of the UN inquiry into Syria’s civil war, Paulo Pinheiro, warned, “Such elements tend to push anti-government fighters towards more radical positions.” Among the mujahideen are veteran jihadists who fought alongside Muslim separatists in Bosnia and Chechnya. Others have ties to al-Qaeda affiliates and fought against Coalition Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Half a dozen jihadist groups are currently operating in Syria. The FSA does not condone the extreme tactics of these groups, and their assassinations and suicide bombings against military and civilian targets have become a major liability in the rebels’ campaign to cultivate international goodwill and credibility. While the FSA has tried to distance itself from extremists groups, as the conflict drags on, the over-extended and under-supplied rebels have become heavily reliant on any reinforcements they can find, however radical. [Continue reading…]