Foreign Fighters on Social Media: An analysis of 11 Facebook accounts

Foreign Fighters on Social Media: An analysis of 11 Facebook accounts

What insights do eleven social Facebook-accounts of Dutch and Belgic foreign fighters offer with respect to the phenomenon of so-called returnees?

Over the last years hundreds of foreign fighters from Belgium and the Netherlands joined armed Islamic groups in Syria. Fundamental to the debate regarding these foreign fighters are the concerns about the threat imposed by 'returnees' - jihadist fighters who return to their country of origin after being involved in the Syrian conflict. This debate is mostly based on assumptions instead of facts since very little is known about the daily life experiences of foreign jihadist fighters in Syria. For this reason we hope to feed this debate, although an analysis of social media accounts may still give a limited insight into the real daily life experience and thoughts of jihadist fighters, with some new empirical.

In this study [in Dutch] eleven social Facebook-accounts of Dutch and Belgic foreign fighters were analyzed. The 387 posts found on these accounts were subjected to a general and a specific analysis. 89 of 378 could not be analysed because crucial context was missing. By analysing the Facebook-accounts of eleven Dutch and Belgian (most likely all Flemish) foreign fighters this paper aims to formulate an empirical based answer on questions fundamental to the debate: what topics are discussed by foreign fighters, how do they think about violence and do they show animosity towards Western societies?

During the analysis a clear top three of most discussed topics showed up. In 22% of the posts, foreign fighters discussed the conflict between JaN en ISIS, the conflict that dominated the Syrian conflict during the period in which the analysis of the Facebook-accounts took place: march-juni 2014. Animosity towards other ethnic groups, such as shi’ites was hardly found (3 posts). In 18% of the posts the armed jihadist battle is glorified by means of a general vocabulary evoking an utopic, romantic and sometimes apocalyptical sphere. Phrases and passages such as `may Allah grant the mujahedeen in al-Shaam the final victory´ were frequently found on all accounts. Some of these posts were apparently posted in order to recruit / motivate others to join the jihadist battle. In 9% of the posts foreign fighters glorify martyrdom. Without any exception martyrdom is highly appreciated and in some posts wonderful characteristics are ascribed to martyrs.

Due to the limited size only some tentative conclusions can be drawn from this study and the remaining analysed posts. Firstly, violence plays a major role in the daily life of foreign fighters in Syria. Foreign fighters are closely witnessing violence on a daily basis and some maybe involved in violent activities. They constantly discuss the violent conflict, glorify the jihadist battle in Syria and martyrdom. Secondly, it appears that although most foreign fighters turned their back to their country of origin only some calls for violent revolt in their home countries were posted.