Number of Europeans Fighting in Syria Rapidly Growing


Credit: Voice of America News: Scott Bobb from Marea, northern Syria./wikimedia

European security officials have said that the number of Europeans who have headed to Syria to fight with Assad's opposition has been rapidly growing. According to Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milquet, the number of Europeans who have traveled to Syria to fight in the civil war "is estimated at between, more or less, 1,500 and 2,000 people, based on what we've heard from our colleagues."

As The Washington Post notes, this figure is more than double the number U.S. intelligence officials released in November.

The concern is that Europeans who are fighting with the jihadist elements within Assad's opposition could return to carry out terrorist attacks in their home country. An article published in The Wall Street Journal this week says that British and French authorities "recently made several terror-related arrests of individuals suspected of links to Syria."

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, says that he is going to be losing some sleep thinking about the number of Westerners fighting in Syria who are being trained for "external operations."

From The Washington Times:

"Al Qaeda core … is saying, 'We have so many Westerners who have showed up, who we're training, who we are putting through their paces … we're giving combat experience to that we are ready to do external operations,'" the Michigan Republican said. "I don't know about the rest of you; that's going to cost me about a week's nights sleep."

Those Westerners have passports from their home countries to which they eventually will return, Mr. Rogers said at a conference in Washington hosted by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and Al-Monitor, a media site focused on the Middle East.

The influence of jihadist groups within rebel forces have some members of Assad's opposition concerned. Earlier this week, The Independent reported that the commander of the Free Syrian Army "is prepared to join regime troops in the future to drive out al-Qa'ida-linked extremists who have taken over swathes of rebel-held territories."

That the commander of the Free Syrian Army is open to a partnership with the Assad regime in the future in order to fight jihadists is an indication not only of the influence Al Qaeda-linked groups are having on the conflict in Syria but also how the Assad regime could take advantage of assistance to rebel forces.