Where do foreign fighters in Syria come from?

The Economist: Poverty does not explain the lure of jihad for Western fighters. Many of them are quite middle-class. Nasser Muthana, a 20-year-old Welshman who goes by the name Abu Muthana al-Yemeni in IS videos, had offers to study medicine from four universities. Nor does a failure to integrate into the societies around them. Photographs of Muhammad Hamidur Rahman, another British fighter thought to have recently been killed, show a young man in a snazzy suit with a slick hairstyle. He worked at Primark, a cheap retailer, in Portsmouth, a city on the English coast. His father ran a curry restaurant. Nor does religious piety. Before leaving for Syria, Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, two young men from Birmingham who pleaded guilty to terrorism offences in July, ordered copies of “Islam for Dummies” and “The Koran for Dummies” from Amazon. Some fighters are religious novices, says Mr [Shiraz] Maher [of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, in London].

More plausible explanations are the desire to escape the ennui of home and to find an identity. “Some individuals are drawn out there because there is not a lot going on in their own lives,” says Raffaello Pantucci, an analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think-tank. Images of combatants playing snooker, eating sweets and splashing in swimming pools have sometimes suggested that jihad was not unlike a student holiday, without the booze. For young men working in dead-end jobs in drab towns, the brotherhood, glory and guns seem thrilling. Many of Belgium’s fighters come from the dullest of cities, where radicals have concentrated their efforts to get recruits.

Jihadist networks and radicals no longer need to base themselves in mosques. Some, such as the one in London’s Finsbury Park, where Abu Hamza shook his hook-hands and praised Osama bin Laden, is now under new management. Others are now more careful about whom they welcome. Small groups can meet instead in garages and flats, where their activities are harder to detect. Jihad-minded Europeans can find all the rabble-rousing they desire online. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter they do not even need to bother with password-protected specialist forums. [Continue reading…]

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