Number of European militants on rise in Syria: Report
According to a report published by the Associated Press on Tuesday, new networks recruit the western Europe-based militants and arrange their travel and lodging in Syria.
The 11 western European countries with the largest contingents in Syria are estimated to have around 1,200 to 1,700 people among the foreign-backed militants fighting against the Syrian government, the report said.
“That compares to estimates of 600-800 from those countries in late spring,” the study said, adding that the rise happened particularly in France, Germany, Belgium and Sweden.
Sources say that France has between 300 and 400 European militants in Syria while Germany has counted over 220. Belgium puts its number at 150 to 200.
Magnus Ranstorp, who is a terrorism specialist with the Swedish National Defense College says Stockholm is about to double its estimates to 150-200.
“In the last two months, there has been an acceleration in the number of people going to Syria.”
“More Europeans have gone to Syria than have gone to all the other conflict zones put together,” including Iraq and Afghanistan, said Thomas Hegghammer, an analyst at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.
Hans Bonte, mayor of Vilvoorde, which is a city of 41,000 in Belgium, said, “I talk to fathers and mothers of young people who have left my city. It’s all well-organized. The air tickets are paid for.”
At least 22 young people from the city have left for Syria, including the most recent group in November.
“It’s a process of following others (who) are trying to convince people to go over there. They are telling stories that it’s fun over there … they are living in a villa with a pool,” Bonte added.
The report also said that attracting new people has become very important for the foreign-sponsored militants as the Syrian government is making more gains its fight against them.
Andrew Parker, head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5, said on November 7 that the UK intelligence service has “seen low hundreds of people from this country go to Syria for periods and come back – some large numbers are still there – and get involved in fighting.”
“Syria has become a very attractive place for people to go… those who support or sympathize with the al-Qaeda ideological message,” Parker stated.
In May, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said militants from 29 different countries were operating in different parts of the country.
According to statistics compiled by the United Nations, more than 100,000 people have been killed and millions of others displaced due to the turmoil that erupted in Syria in March 2011.
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