Thursday, February 26, 2015

Islamic State’s Scariest Success: Attracting Western Newcomers

Extremist Group Gains Appeal Well Beyond its Ultraconservative Roots

By Yaroslav Trofimov, WSJ
Feb. 26, 2015 1:31 a.m. ET

Islamic State’s ability to lure thousands of Westerners is unprecedented in modern history, and may be its scariest success. It is especially disturbing because the bulk of these women and men flocking to Syria are relative newcomers to Islamic observance—a sign the murderous group is gaining appeal well beyond its ultraconservative roots.

Either outright converts from Christianity or people raised in nonobservant or atheist households, they are often rebels in search of a flag of convenience, terrorism researchers say. In rejecting modern society and its rules, many of these newly baked jihadists have embraced Islamic State’s genocidal cult simply because it is the most obvious counterpoint to the West.

Mathieu Guidere, an expert who tracks Western foreign fighters at the University of Toulouse, estimated that more than half are “disillusioned idealists and revolutionaries.”

“They want to remake the world, and find only jihadism as an alternative ideology because there is nothing else left out there,” Mr. Guidere said. “What they are really looking for is armed struggle, and in Islamic State, they find it.”

About one quarter of the 20,000 foreign fighters who traveled to Syria and Iraq hail from Europe, North America and Australia, intelligence officials say. The overwhelming majority are native-born citizens rather than immigrants. This Western influx is orders of magnitude larger than in the earlier battlefields of jihad, such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, or Iraq during the U.S. occupation.

(More here.)

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