The number of foreign fighters who have traveled to join the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al Qaeda in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries has reached a historic level, exceeding 25,000 from over 100 countries, reveals a new U.N. report.
The experts found that Iraq and Syria housed most of the foreign fighters.
An estimated 22,000 foreigners linked to ISIS and al Qaeda are reportedly fighting in Iraq and Syria; nearly 6,500 in Afghanistan, hundreds more in Yemen, Libya, Pakistan, and about 100 in Somalia.
Moreover, the experts report that foreigners have also joined terrorists in the Sahel countries in North Africa and the Philippines.
Although most of the fighters who traveled to Iraq and Syria joined ISIS, they also linked up with the Syrian al Qaeda affiliate al Nusra Front.
Iraq and Syria have become an “international finishing school for extremists,” the experts said.
The worldwide number of foreign terrorist fighters increased by 71 percent between mid-2014 and March 2015, added the panel, noting that the number of countries the fighters come form has also skyrocketed to over 100 today including nations that have never been linked to al Qaeda and other jihadist groups.
In the report, the experts mentioned that the flow of foreign fighters “is higher than it has ever been historically.”
The total number of foreigner fighters has “risen sharply from a few thousand… a decade ago to more than 25,000 today,” the panel said.
“For the thousands of [foreign fighters] who traveled to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq… they live and work in a veritable ‘international finishing school’ for extremists, as was the case in Afghanistan during the 1990s,” it added.
A “high number” of the foreign fighters are from Tunisia, Morocco, France, and Russia.
However, there has also been an increase in fighters from the Maldives, Finland, Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean, and unnamed countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Defeating ISIS could have the unintended consequence of scattering the foreign fighters across the world, the report warned, adding that some may be recruited by criminal networks.
Efforts to deal with the threat posed by the growing number of foreign fighters should focus on preventing the radicalization, recruitment and travel of the prospective fighters, suggested the U.N. report.
U.S. intelligence officials estimate that more than 150 U.S. citizens and residents have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to join ISIS.
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