by Anna Borshchevskaya

Another recent report –by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) —highlights the rise in foreign fighters in Syria.   The study is based on analysis of over 1,500 open sources and concludes that up to 11,000 individuals from 74 countries joined the opposition struggle in Syria.

From Western Europe in particular, the number has gone up by over 300% since April  2012—from approximately 600 individuals to 1,900 believed to be operating in Syria right now.  This is a staggering statistic.

Still, a large majority—70 percent—of the total foreign fighters in Syria are from the Middle Eastern countries. By far, Joran is the largest contributor, followed by Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Libya, concludes the report.

What is the reason for the sharp increase of foreign fighters in Syria? Here is the response from the report’s authors:

It is difficult to be certain, but it may be no coincidence that the period since publication of our first estimate has coincided with the more forceful and open involvement by the Lebanese group Hizballah, Iraqi Shia militas and Iranian government forces on Assad’s side. This may have reinforced and strengthened the perception among some Sunnis that the conflict is fundamentally sectarian, and that Sunnis need to stand together in order to halt the (Shia) enemy’s advance. Indeed, this type of solidarity has driven a number of previous foreign fighter mobilisations involving Sunni militants.

As I’ve written before, the total number of foreign fighters may be a small proportion within the Syrian opposition, believed to be approximately 100,000.  Yet the impact of foreign fighters perhaps matters far more than their numbers when these individuals are radicalized.

Foreign fighters began coming to Syria early 2012, approximately a year after Bashar al-Assad violently suppressed peaceful protests against his authoritarian regime in April 2011.

Well over 100,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict since its start in 2011. Millions have become refugees.  And there is no end in sight.

Anna Borshchevskaya is Communications Director at the American Islamic Congress