Foreign terrorists of the Wahabi-Saudi stripe from around the world are rushing to Syria at a faster rate than the flow of rebels into Afghanistan in the war against a Soviet-backed regime in the 1980s, said Aaron Y. Zelin, a Washington Institute researcher, as reported Sunday in the Washington Times.
An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 foreign fighters have entered Syria since March 2011, from at least 60 nations. Most are Arabs from Saudi Arabia, Libya, and Tunisia, but a few dozen are from Western Europe, particularly Britain, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, the report says. Ten to 20 fighters have come from the United States.
Zelin also reports that members of the Syrian opposition groups are increasingly going over to al Qaeda-linked groups such as al Nusra and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), “which are better funded, equipped and organized.”
Foreigners make up about 80 percent of al-Nusra’s leadership, and as much as 20 percent of its 6,000 to 7,000 fighters are from other nations.
About 40 percent of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s 4,000 to 5,000 fighters are foreigners, and its leadership is about 80 percent foreign, according to the Syrian Support Group, which distributes U.S. supplies to opposition rebels.
“Those radicalized fighters will pose a threat to their home countries when they return,” former CIA official Michael Scheuer told a Congressional hearing last week, according to the Times. “They return with confidence that victory is possible. They and their colleagues now know that they inflicted humiliating defeats on the United States military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that knowledge will boost both spirits and recruitment. And they come home with a list of contacts among their fellow mujahedeen from whom they can seek advice or more material forms of assistance.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today that a senior State Department official said that “the ISIS is making it very hard to extract concessions from Assad, since everything they do prove him right.”