First Published: 2017-08-13

UN study: Extremist fighters lack good education and jobs
Almost 40% of the sample group said they were motivated to go to Syria by “an obligation to defend their fellow Sunnis.”
Middle East Online

A female jihadist walks with her daughter at Reform and Rehabilitation Foundation in Tripoli

A UN study of 43 people who left their coun­tries to become “for­eign terrorist fighters” in Syria concluded that most were from disadvantaged backgrounds, lacked good educa­tion and decent jobs and saw their Muslim religion “in terms of jus­tice and injustice rather than in terms of piety and spirituality.”

The study for the UN Counter- Terrorism Centre said that, based on interviews with the 42 men and one woman, a typical “foreign ter­rorist fighter” (FTF) is most likely to be young, male and feel “their life lacked meaning.”

Professor Hamed el-Said of Man­chester Metropolitan University and British terrorism expert Rich­ard Barrett, who conducted the study, said beyond that it’s diffi­cult to generalise why the extrem­ists wanted to go to Syria.

They cited “a mix of factors,” saying “social networks often seem to play a key role” and “equally important is the role and identity of the recruiters, who are not necessarily members of armed groups” but are more likely to be sympathisers.

Almost 40% of the sample group said they were motivated to go to Syria by “an obligation to defend their fellow Sunnis from the Syr­ian government and its allies by force,” the report said. “This con­firms that many Muslim youth, re­gardless of where they come from, perceive the conflict in Syria in community more than in religious terms.”

The authors said this perception of a duty to defend their group during a war “is an important ele­ment in understanding what may motivate an individual to become an FTF.”

Other responses confirmed “the lack of ideology” as a motivating factor, they said, noting for exam­ple that “very few of this sample believe in the idea of an Islamic State or of establishing a caliphate in the Levant.”

A UN estimate in March 2015 stated there were more than 25,000 FTFs from more than 100 countries.

The authors said that while the issue of FTFs has risen on the po­litical agenda in many countries, there is a lack of detailed knowl­edge about why people choose to join terrorist organisations and why some return home.

The authors stressed that their study is not a random sample but they said it was one of the largest samples of face-to-face interviews conducted with FTFs and there­fore they believe the report “adds significantly to current research.”

The 43 people interviewed rep­resented 12 nationalities and 33 reached Syria but subsequently de­cided to leave, the report said. The other ten were either intercepted by authorities in their home coun­try or stopped en route to Syria by authorities in a transit country.

The authors said 26 of the sub­jects were interviewed in prison and the remaining 17 in official premises or public places arranged by security officials from the host country, though generally not in their presence.

Despite an appeal to all UN mem­bers, the authors expressed regret that only seven countries — three from the European Union and four from the Middle East and North Africa — agreed to participate in the study.

The report said the participants “claimed they did not go to Syria with the intention of becoming a terrorist nor did they return with that purpose in mind.” In Syria, most said the only military expe­rience they received was a simple course on how to shoot with no bullets “as shooting draws the at­tention of the enemy.” Five of the 43 admitted to participating in fighting in Syria, the report said.

The authors said families had “a powerful influence” in convincing those interviewed to leave Syria, as well as their own “disillusion­ment” and “disappointment.”

Said and Barrett expressed hope that the study “will assist member states to design and implement policies and programmes that dis­courage those who are about to or are thinking of going to Syria, and reintegrate those who have already returned, or who are about to do so” with minimum risk to public safety.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.


UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Egypt revives controversial desert capital project

Syria’s justice system: ‘working without a written law'

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile

Morocco’s renewed ties with South Africa likely to consolidate support for Western Sahara stance

Lebanese security forces fire tear gas at protestors

Iran sentences fugitive ex-bank chief to jail

Iraq announces 'end of the war against Daesh'

Israeli air strike kills 2 in Gaza

UK foreign minister in Iran to push for Briton's release

Turkey's Erdogan seeks to lead Muslim response on Jerusalem

Iraqi Christians celebrate in town retaken from IS

Isolated US defiant at UN Security Council

Putin to visit Turkey for talks on Jerusalem, Syria

Protests sweep Muslim world over Jerusalem

US urges Saudi to show caution in regional disputes

Thousands march in Istanbul to protest US Jerusalem move

Bahrain Shiite leader undergoes surgery

Malaysians, Indonesians protest US move on Jerusalem

EU, Jordan voice backing for Palestinian state

Clashes in West Bank over US Jerusalem move

Macron appeals for calm over US Jerusalem embassy move

World leaders to 're-legitimise' Lebanon PM at Paris talks

Iraq forces launch new push against IS desert holdouts

Iran cleric urges new intifada against 'occupying regime'

Heavy Israeli deployment ahead of Friday prayers

Saudi crown prince ‘bought’ $450 mn Da Vinci

Trump Jerusalem ploy sparks Palestinian protests

States pledge action, condemn Libya slavery

UN says Syrian males caught in ‘vicious cycle’ of sex abuse

Jerusalem move awkward for Arab allies of US

Niger repatriates nationals from Libya

Russia says mission to defeat IS in Syria ‘accomplished’

Jerusalem recognition brings little change and big risks

Qatar agrees to buy fighter jets from France amid Gulf crisis

Iraqi militia threatens US forces over Jerusalem provocation

Qatar wants to resolve Guft rift, but not at expense of dignity

World condemns Trump Jerusalem announcement

UAE ‘disappointed’ at inclusion in EU tax haven blacklist

Huthi rebels mount show of force in Sanaa

Syrian opposition pressured into accepting Assad

Yemen government forces retake Red Sea town