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How many jihadists are there in Syria and Iraq?

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Since 18 July 2012, the beginning of the Nicaraguan-model war on Syria, fighters have flocked to the Levant from the entire Muslim world. According to the narrative spewed by the Atlanticist and Gulf media, it is all about spontaneous migration. The Guardian revealed that "A report by the UN security council finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (Isis) and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries." [1].

However, the Security Council does not itself draw up reports: it commissions them from the Secretary-General who, in turn, assigns the task to his representatives and committees. The newspaper did not reveal who authored the document in question. In all likelihood, the figures were provided by Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London. This scholar, whose research unit is sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (Israel) and who also serves as an expert for the George Soros Open Society Foundations, collected official figures from various sources except for those provided by two States directly concerned, Syria and Iraq. Neumann accompanied President Obama to the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council meeting on terrorism, last September. In London, he is assisted by Aaron Y. Zelin (also an expert at WINEP, the AIPAC think tank). In other words, the Guardian falsely presents the numbers as originating from a neutral international entity when, in fact, they came from experts with US and Israeli ties.

Professor Neumann’s figures coincide with those put out by the US intelligence services. They are on average 12 to 16 times lower than those provided by the Syrian Arab Army.

As already seen after the attacks of September 11, 2001 when several institutes were given grants to produce analyses on the danger of Al Qaeda, today we are witnessing a proliferation of research studies on the jihad in the Levant, based on the same sources, so as to consolidate the Atlanticist and Gulf discourse.

Professor Neumann claims that the Islamic State attacked Iraq, conquered a large swath of Jordanian territory and administered it with only 800 men. Then, always according to him, IS considerably beefed up its troops and manages to keep the US Coalition in check with less than 5 000 men.

If such estimates are patently absurd, it is just as difficult to verify those provided by the Syrian Arab Army which, in June 2014, put the number of foreign jihadists who entered the country over the past two years at 250,000. However, an on-the-spot check renders this figure not only plausible, but even probable.

For example, at the beginning of the war, fighters from Libya arrived in two contingents. The first one was made up of Libyans affiliated with the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG, Al-Qaeda in Libya). Their number was estimated to be at least 3 000, while Professor Neuman has only tallied 556 in three years. The second contingent consisted of 1 500 Afghans [2], while Professor Neumann found only 23 in three years.

The Syrian Arab Army says that it incinerates the corpses of the jihadists it eliminates, except where it has established repatriation agreements with the countries of origin. Thus, Damascus has quietly organized in conjunction with the Emir Abdelkader Foundation the repatriation of the remains of more than a thousand Algerian jihadists, while Professor Neumann’s figure is only 250.

This controversy is not innocent: for the past three years, the Atlanticist and Gulf States narrative is that Syria is in the throes of a domestic revolution, supported by some foreign jihadists, while the Syrian Arab Republic claims to be the target of an attack from abroad by jihadists who arrived in droves, supported by some Syrians.

However, the outcome of the presidential election on 3 June 2014 showed that the Atlanticist and Gulf narrative was false, as Bashar al-Assad garnered 88.7% of the votes from his fellow citizens.

[1] “Foreign jihadists flocking to Iraq and Syria on ’unprecedented scale’ – UN”, Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian, 30 October 2014.

[2] “CIA recruits 1,500 from Mazar-e-Sharif to fight in Libya”, Azhar Masood, The Nation (Pakistan), 31 August 2011.

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