BERLIN – The Syrian civil war continues to serve as a magnet for radical foreign
jihadists to oust President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Belgian daily La Libre Belgique on Friday cited a Belgian security source saying
that “four to five thousand” European jihadists were waging war in Syria. This
number far exceeds the figure in a late November study by Norwegian
counterterrorism specialist Thomas Hegghammer, which said that “at least 1,200
European Muslims have gone to Syria since the start of the war.”
Schindler, a professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College
and a prominent counterterrorism expert, drew attention to the Belgian figure on
his widely respected and popular intelligence blog The XX Committee.
figure of 4,000 to 5,000 EU passport holders fighting in Syria is a shocking one
and quite a bit higher than anything previously seen in the European media,”
Schindler wrote. “However, I’m not ready to discount it out of hand, as I’ve
worked with Belgian intelligence on counterterrorism matters in the past, and
I’ve found them to be professionals who have a good understanding of the serious
threats they’re dealing with. Additionally, the figures I’ve been given on
European jihadists fighting in Syria by intelligence officers and
counterterrorism experts... is not much out of the range cited today by La Libre
The Jerusalem Post contacted Germany’s domestic intelligence –
Verfassungsschutz – in November on the subject, and the agency said the number
of German jihadists leaving for Syria was “changing on a daily basis... What
they are doing there, we don’t know, because we are a domestic intelligence
agency.” It further noted that movement of German jihadists into Syria cannot be
precisely tracked because their EU passports allow for wide latitude to travel
via other countries such as Turkey into Syria.
The gap between the
Belgian estimate and Hegghammer’s earlier one can be explained by the lack of a
hard science to identify foreign jihadists in Syria, as well as the possibility
that news organizations are receiving incomplete or fragmented
Meanwhile, a Tuesday BBC report said that as many as 11,000
foreign fighters – ranging from Arab countries to Indonesia to Kazakhstan to
Western Europe – are engaged in combat in Syria to overthrow the Iranand
Hezbollah-backed regime of Assad.
La Libre Belgique’s report “Syrian
Networks: Risk Exacerbated” stated that 200 Belgians fought or were still active
as fighters in Syria and that as many as 20 had died in combat.
correct for European spooks to be worried,” said Schindler, “since the large
number of foreign fighters in Syria... is an ominous portent, making Syria’s
fratricide something of a jihadist Super Bowl.”