Is­lamic State re­cruit­ing ed­u­cated as well as poor

Fight­ers mus­tered from 50 dif­fer­ent coun­tries

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The Is­lamic State drew far more fight­ers from far more coun­tries than its pre­de­ces­sor, a steady flow from far-flung global re­gions that helps ex­plain the ter­ror­ists’ com­mit­ment to mass mur­der and de­struc­tion once they ar­rived to cre­ate a bal­ly­hooed promised land.

The Is­lamic State re­cruit ros­ters were filled with not just the poor and aban­doned but the ed­u­cated and pre­sumedly pros­per­ous. The ar­rivals in­cluded lawyers, en­gi­neers, po­lice of­fi­cers and com­puter tech­ni­cians — the pro­fes­sion­als needed to con­struct leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi’s warped vi­sion of a so-called caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

In a new re­port, the Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ism Cen­ter at the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­emy at West Point, New York, ex­am­ined ac­tual per­son­nel records from the Is­lamic State and com­pared them to pre­de­ces­sor al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which al-Bagh­dadi also headed.

Right off the bat, the big dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is the en­tice­ment of­fered by the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist army. It be­gan tak­ing ter­ri­tory in 2011 in Iraq and Syria, while AQI was a less-ap­peal­ing, cell-struc­tured in­sur­gent or­ga­ni­za­tion.

In all, the Is­lamic State has drawn fight­ers from 50 dif­fer­ent coun­tries as of 2014. To­day the U.S. es­ti­mates its strength at about 20,000 in Iraq and

Syria, ex­clud­ing satel­lite armies that have arisen in Libya, the Egyp­tian Si­nai, Afghanistan, Pak­istan and other places.

“The fact that this to­tals 50 coun­tries is a sober­ing re­minder of the global na­ture of the foreign fighter prob­lem faced in the con­text of the Is­lamic State,” the West Point anal­y­sis says.

The AQI fight­ers came al­most ex­clu­sively from the Mid­dle East and North Africa. Few came from Europe.

In one sam­ple file, the Is­lamic State had at­tracted 126 per­sons from France and 210 from Rus­sia. China pro­vided none to AQI but 163 re­cruits to Is­lamic State.

The 2011-14 span was the crit­i­cal time frame for the Sunni ex­trem­ist Is­lamic State. While the Syr­ian civil war cre­ated un­governed ar­eas and Iraq was mi­nus U.S. troops, Is­lamic State grew and spread across both coun­tries, in­clud­ing its in­va­sion of Iraq and cap­ture of large stretches of ground in the west and north.

Pres­i­dent Obama or­dered troops and air­craft back into Iraq. A coun­terIs­lamic State coali­tion has taken back most towns and ci­ties in Iraq, while Amer­i­can-trained Syria rebels are mov­ing to­ward Raqqa, the Is­lamic State’s self-pro­claimed cap­i­tal.

By most ac­counts, Is­lamic State ter­ror­ists are fight­ing to keep its ma­jor Iraqi prize — the city of Mo­sul — un­der­scor­ing the com­mit­ment of trav­el­ing hun­dreds or thou­sands of miles to join the ter­ror­ist army.

A snap­shot of Is­lamic State ar­rivals showed a di­verse cross-sec­tion of pro­fes­sions able to cre­ate a whole new Is­lamic so­ci­ety. There were 629 busi­ness­men, 76 po­lice or mil­i­tary, 103 skilled whitecol­lar work­ers in­clud­ing lawyers and en­gi­neers, 69 in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy ex­perts and 28 me­dia pro­fes­sion­als.

“Over­all, the size of the Is­lamic State re­cruit­ing pool pro­vides for a larger num­ber of oc­cu­pa­tional [back­grounds] present and there­fore more di­verse re­sources avail­able to Is­lamic State lead­ers,” the re­port says.

The Is­lamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, was able to con­struct a far-reach­ing so­cial me­dia pro­pa­ganda oper­a­tion. Post­ings, in­clud­ing Twit­ter mes­sages and on­line mag­a­zines, sold Is­lamic State as an Is­lamic caliphate des­tined to con­quer the world.

Is­lamic State also put to­gether a di­verse and com­plex net­work of en­try points into Syria, and the group lo­cated its so-called cap­i­tal in north­east Raqqa. The records showed at least seven en­try points to cross the bor­der, mak­ing suc­cess­ful in­fil­tra­tion more likely.

“From a coun­tert­er­ror­ism per­spec­tive, this means that stem­ming or stop­ping the flow of foreign Is­lamic State re­cruits was a much harder and more com­plex task dur­ing that time frame,” the study says.

Is­lamic State’s pro­fes­sion­ally di­verse ter­ror­ism force also makes it more dif­fi­cult for the West to cre­ate a pro­file of likely re­cruits.

“In some ways, know­ing less about ‘who’ to look for com­pli­cates and prob­lema­tizes coun­tert­er­ror­ism ac­tions that aim to pre­vent re­cruit­ment and rad­i­cal­iza­tion in the first place as well as fu­ture at­tacks at lat­ter stages,” the West Point cen­ter says.

The cen­ter looked at more than 3,000 files that con­tained fight­ers’ home­towns and ar­rival dates. Many liked to travel in groups. The ci­ties that pro­duced sig­nif­i­cant group ar­rivals were Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia; Beng­hazi, Libya; Moscow; and Paris.

AQI re­quired re­cruits to sign con­tracts agree­ing to be­come sui­cide bombers. Those at­tacks were its hall­marks, along with car bombs.

Is­lamic State did not ap­pear to de­mand such iron­clad com­mit­ments. It did al­low sui­cide bombers to pick the geo­graphic lo­ca­tion at which they wanted to self-ex­plode.

The re­port au­thors say a sur­pris­ing find­ing is that Tu­nisia, the birth­place of the so-called Arab Spring and a coun­try that has avoided civil war, be­came the largest con­trib­u­tor to Is­lamic State per capita.

“The pre­rev­o­lu­tion [Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali regime’s tight con­trol over re­li­gious ac­tiv­i­ties meant that with the regime’s col­lapse there were no in­flu­en­tial re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions to fill the void, leav­ing a re­li­gious vac­uum that rad­i­cal groups quickly at­tempted to fill,” the study says, re­fer­ring to Tu­nisia’s ousted pres­i­dent. “In ad­di­tion, the so­cial and eco­nomic needs of many Tu­nisians, es­pe­cially the youth, were not met by the post-rev­o­lu­tion gov­ern­ments.”

The West Point study is ti­tled “Then and Now: Com­par­ing the Flow of Foreign Fight­ers to AQI and the Is­lamic State.”

The au­thors re­lied on two sets of records. For AQI, the mil­i­tary cap­tured the files on a raid near the Iraqi town of Sin­jar. A col­lec­tion of 4,119 Is­lamic State per­son­nel records were pro­vided by a de­fec­tor to NBC News.

“ISIS ap­peals to ide­o­logues, and that group in­cludes some very smart and skilled peo­ple,” said Robert Magin­nis, a re­tired Army of­fi­cer and ter­ror­ism ex­pert. “Just think about the high school geek who was a wiz at science but grav­i­tated to some off-the-wall ideas. That’s the same out­come for some who em­brace ISIS Salafist or­tho­doxy and es­pe­cially the Is­lamic prophetic view that an ISIS-like caliphate would usher in the end times and the re­turn of the Is­lamic Mahdi.”

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