Islam is ‘not strongest factor’ behind foreign fighters joining extremist groups in Syria and Iraq

Islam is ‘not strongest factor’ behind foreign fighters joining extremist groups in Syria and Iraq


Religion is not the strongest driving force behind thousands of foreign fighters joining Isis and other terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, a report by US military researchers has found.

A new study by the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) at West Point revealed that the vast majority of almost 1,200 militants surveyed had no formal religious education and had not adhered to Islam for their entire lives.

Extremist groups may prefer such recruits because they are “less capable of critically scrutinising the jihadi narrative and ideology” and instead adhere totally to their chosen organisation’s violent and reductive interpretation of Islam

Analysts said many foreign fighters travelling from the West are attracted to jihadi groups through cultural and political identities rather than Islam itself, which is moved into a “secondary role”.

“The ability of jihadi groups to recruit foreign fighters is thus based on creating a narrative that is focused on the ongoing deprivation of Muslims, both in specific Western polities, as well as in the international arena,” said the CTC’s report

The analysis, carried out at the United States Military Academy, corresponded with revelations from a trove of Isis entry forms leaked earlier this year, where the majority of those joining the so-called Islamic State listed their Sharia knowledge as “basic”.

At the height of Isis’s drive for foot soldiers in 2013 and 2014, recruits reportedly included two Britons who ordered The Koran for Dummies and Islam for Dummies from Amazon to prepare for jihad abroad.

Major Islamic organisations around the world have condemned Isis and ripped it’s theological claims to shreds. Among them is the Muslim Council of Britain, which issued a joint statement from mosques across the UK condemning the group’s “deceitful” actions as “far from the teachings of Islam”.

While government-led strategies across Europe and the US have encouraged mosques to take a lead in fighting radicalisation, the CTC found that religious figures played only a “minimal role” and fighters were isolated from Muslim communities at home, instead being radicalised by jihadi recruiters, online or by friends.

The CTC analysed the lives – and deaths – of foreign fighters who attempted to join militant groups in Syria and Iraq from 2011 to 2015, from France, Belgium, the UK, Germany the Netherlands and 25 other countries.

“Foreign fighters are not just engaging in a significant amount of fighting, but they are also doing a large amount of dying,” said the report

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