The return of foreign fighters to Iraq

Aaron Y. Zelin writes: Similar to Al Qaeda in Iraq’s original practice of posting official martyrdom notices, ISIS began doing so itself earlier this year, highlighting its comfort in sharing such information. Since early March, the group has released 201 martyrdom notices on its official province-level Twitter accounts for foreign fighters killed in Iraq (most of the notices were also posted on online jihadist forums). Although some of these notices were for individuals who died as far back as September 2012, the vast majority were for deaths that occurred after April 2013.

Since this information is self-reported by ISIS, and because the group continues to release older notices, the actual number of foreigners who have died in Iraq is likely higher. Further, some notices do not name a specific country of origin, instead using phrases such as “al-Shami” (which could denote anyone in the Levant) and “al-Muhajir” (meaning simply “emigrant”). In any case, this year’s jihadist death toll is set to exceed last year’s — if the current pace continues, some 233 foreign fighters will have been killed in Iraq by the end of 2014, or two-and-a-half times more than 2013. And the pace will likely accelerate given the increased fighting.

Similar to last decade, Saudis are well represented in ISIS martyrdom notices (with 38 dead), as are Libyans (10 dead). And many of the 18 “unknown” cases are likely Syrians. The biggest change is the enormous growth in the Tunisian (57 dead) and Moroccan (27) contingents. And while the majority of fighters hail from the Arab world, the notices also name individuals from the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa, North America, and Western Europe. Among the eight Westerners represented, three were from Denmark, three from France, and one each from Canada and Norway. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email