The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group dedicated to following the developments on the ground in the Syrian Civil War, tells Reuters that the jihadist terror group, the Islamic State (IS), has expanded by “at least 6,300” jihadists in the past month, the fastest expansion of the organization to date.
Rami Abdelrahman, founder of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told the news outlet that this expansion significantly enhances the Islamic State’s ability to grow its activities outside of strongholds. Reuters notes that anecdotal evidence from speaking to individuals living in Raqqa, Syria–the city the Islamic State has proclaimed its capital–corroborates the large increase in Islamic State members. While as many as one thousand of these recruits are international, the majority who have been enlisted into the terrorist group are Syrian.
Reuters cites the total number of Islamic State fighters at 15,000, but estimates vary. Al Jazeera is reporting that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights offered a number as large as 50,000 jihadists, including 20,000 foreigners from “Chechnya, China, Europe and Arab countries,” who had entered Syria mostly through Turkey. They also cite a source directly tied to the Islamic State telling the Qatari outlet that there were 30,000 active jihadists working for IS in Iraq.
The Islamic State’s media operation has dedicated much of its efforts to recruiting international jihadists to travel out of the West and into Iraq and Syria. The group’s Al Hayat Media outlet has released videos calling for Indonesian, Bosnian, Canadian, and other Western Muslims to abandon their families and move to Syria to fight jihad. One video specifically targeted UK and Australian Muslims to leave the West. Reports have surfaced that the Islamic State has even resorted to handing out free fried chicken vouchers to recruit Muslims to wage jihad on their behalf in the Middle East.
On the ground in Syria, the Islamic State also uses “preaching vans” to travel from town to town recruiting jihadists–this in addition to forcing religious minorities in areas they control to convert to Islam and pay the infidel’s tax (jizya), leave the area, or be killed. The Islamic State has been known not only to target and kill those of other religions, but execute fellow Sunni Muslims who are considered insufficiently extreme in their religious ideology. In June, Islamic State jihadists displayed the bodies of nine men crucified in Syria who were identified as anti-Assad Muslims rebels, but were not considered extreme enough in their embrace of jihad. They were, therefore, crucified as an example to others.