Combatting the ISIS Foreign Fighter Pipeline: A Global Approach

In just two years—from fall 2013 to fall 2015—ISIS established a presence in at least 19 countries. With a slick and sophisticated Internet and social media campaign, and by capitalizing on the civil war in Syria and sectarian divisions in Iraq, ISIS has been able to attract more than 25,000 fighters from outside the Islamic State’s territory to join its ranks in Iraq and Syria. These foreign fighters include over 4,500 citizens from Western nations, including around 250 U.S. citizens who have either traveled to the Middle East to fight with extremist organizations or attempted to do so. The civil war in Syria has been the main catalyst for young people to leave their home countries and join ISIS to fight the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Failure of Western nations to respond to incidents like Assad’s 2013 chemical attack on civilians facilitated ISIS recruiting. Unexpected ISIS success in Iraq, where, in June 2014, it captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of a caliphate that same month, has further accelerated the flow of fighters to the region. ISIS’s unprecedented success in recruiting fighters from around the world has been its ability to convince impressionable young Muslims of a civilizational struggle between Islam and the West, making it the duty of all Muslims to join the war. In this Heritage Foundation Special Report, a team of experts on counterterrorism, global Islamist trends, and specific regions detail a multi-pronged, and international, approach to cutting off the flow of foreign fighters to the Islamic State.

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