World View: About 700 women from Tunisia Thought to Join Islamic State


This morning’s key headlines from

  • Number of foreign fighters joining ISIS in Syria doubles to 31,000
  • About 700 women from Tunisia are thought to have joined ISIS
  • Return of Russia’s foreign fighters from Syria threatens Russian security

Number of foreign fighters joining ISIS in Syria doubles to 31,000

Sources of foreign fighters joining ISIS (Soufan Group)
Sources of foreign fighters joining ISIS (Soufan Group)

The foreign fighter phenomenon in Syria and Israel is a truly global phenomenon, with at least 86 countries worldwide seeing one of their citizens or residents travel to Syria to fight for extremist groups there, primarily for the so-called Islamic State (IS or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh).

The number of foreign fighters traveling to Syria has doubled in the last year, reaching 27,000-31,000.

But the flow is neither uniform by region nor by country, regardless of the pool of residents who may be susceptible to the Islamic State’s appeal. That is because the motivation for people to join violent extremist groups in Syria and Iraq remains more personal than political. There have been “hotbeds of recruitment” scattered around the world, which exist because of the personal nature of recruitment.

Some of these hotbeds are:

  • the Lisleby district of Fredrikstad in Norway
  • Bizerte and Ben Gardane in Tunisia
  • Derna in Libya
  • the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia
  • the Molenbeek district of Brussels Belgium

As hotbeds develop, recruitment through social media becomes less important than via direct human contact, as clusters of friends and neighbors persuade each other to travel separately or together to join the Islamic State. Soufan Group (PDF) and The National (UAE)

About 700 women from Tunisia are thought to have joined ISIS

Tunisia has suffered two major terrorist attacks this year. Terrorists attacked the Bardo Museum in Tunis in March, and a gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at a Tunisian hotel in Sousse on Friday, killing 37 people. ( “27-Jun-15 World View — Terror attacks in Kuwait, France, Somalia and Tunisia highlight growing sectarian war”)

Of all the countries in the world supplying foreign fighters to ISIS in Syria, Tunisia has supplied the most, between 5,000 and 6,000.

According to Tunisia’s minister for women Samira Merai, many of those foreign fighters are girls and women:

We have noted a development in the phenomenon of terrorism. Today there are 700 (Tunisian) women in Syria, and there are women in Tunisian prisons [on terrorism charges].


Return of Russia’s foreign fighters from Syria threatens Russian security

In Soviet times, authorities used a registration system that made it almost impossible for people to move from one region to another without approval from the Soviet authorities. This meant that rural residents stayed in the villages, and migration between Soviet countries was prevented. All of this is now changing quickly, threatening Russian security. In Russia’s North Caucasus provinces, young Muslims can move from villages to larger cities or to Moscow, leaving them disconnected from their traditional ethnic communities and then easily mobilized by radical Islamists.

The form of “migration” that is generating the most concern involves those who have gone to the Middle East to fight for ISIS or other radical groups and who are then returning home, where they will continue their fight or recruit others. Russian officials say that there are only 500 North Caucasians in the ranks of the ISIS, but local experts say the figure is 5,000 or even more.

Russian officials have not yet figured out a good strategy to cope with the jihadists returning from Syria and ISIS. With unemployment very high and wages very low in the North Caucasus, draconian counterterrorist operations are proving counterproductive, driving more North Caucasians into the arms of the radicals rather than breaking their will. Jamestown/Paul Goble

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Syria, Libya, Georgia, Belgium, Islamic State / of Iraq and Syria/Sham/the Levant, IS, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, Tunisia, Samira Merai, Russia, North Caucasus
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