Explained: Where do foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria come from? - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Where do foreign fighters come from?
More than 20,000 foreign fighters have travelled from around the world to fight in Iraq and Syria - more than joined the fight in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR).
The figure of 20,000 represents the total number of fighters over the course of the conflict, not the number currently engaged in the fight.
Middle East and north Africa
The largest number of fighters were from the Middle East and north Africa - more than 11,000.
That included up to an estimated 3,000 from Tunisia and 2,500 from Saudi Arabia.
However, nearly a fifth of the fighters - a total of 4,000 - were residents or nationals of Western European countries.
France, the United Kingdom and Germany had the highest numbers joining the fight.
Western Europe - per capita
Belgium, Denmark and Sweden were larger sources of foreign fighters relative to their smaller population sizes.
Australia and Asia
Between 100 and 250 fighters had departed Australia for Iraq and Syria, the ICSR estimated.
It said South-East Asia was “a blind spot” in its research, with few reliable estimates available.
How many have returned?
Of the more than 20,000 foreign fighters who have joined the battle, ICSR director Peter R Neumann estimated:
5 per cent to 10 per cent had died, and
10 per cent to 30 per cent had left the conflict zone, some returning home.
Neumann stressed that counting foreign fighters was “no exact science”.
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The number of foreigners who have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight has topped 20,000, surpassing the number attracted to Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR).
Centre director Peter Neumann, who has advised the United Nations Security Council on the foreign fighters issue, said the conflict had become a “truly international” fight.
Counting the number of Western fighters was “no exact science”, Professor Neumann said, but his estimates were based on more than 1,500 sources, including media reports, government estimates, social media profiles, statements from jihadist groups, direct interviews and fieldwork.
The 20,000 figure is an estimate of the total number of foreigners who have joined the fight over the course of the conflict, rather than the number currently engaged in Iraq and Syria.
The centre’s research suggested up to one-third of foreign fighters, or nearly 7,000, had already returned to their home countries and between 5 per cent and 10 per cent had been killed.
“There has been actually only one mobilisation of foreign fighters that has been similar, and that is of course the Afghanistan conflict in the 1980s, which has also produced up to 20,000 fighters - albeit over an entire decade, whereas in the case of Syria and Iraq we’re now talking about the same number in just three or four years,” Professor Neumann said in a speech at the London School of Economics.
As with Afghanistan, the current mobilisation would have “long-lasting consequences”, he added.