Foreign fighters remain alien within IS

Foreign fighters remain alien within IS

Foreigner fighters seem excluded by indiginous groups within the Islamic State, despite the Caliphate's propaganda suggesting otherwise.

Foreign fighters appear not fully integrated within Islamic State (IS). Language problems, cultural differences from praying practices to eating habits, prevent the acceptance of foreigners into the ranks of IS. That is one of the early conclusions drawn from an interview by associate professor Mark Dechesne and PhD-candidate Wietse van den Berge with a captured IS-fighter. The researchers were allowed access to the prisoner and discussed his life-story and his involvement in IS.

Video footage exists showing the imprisoned IS-fighter’s cruelty. He has confessed to have beheaded multiple people, acts that have earned him the title of Emir within IS. The Emir was involved in various attacks. He was trained both by the Iraqi army and IS, and specialized in explosions with TNT. The Emir prepared car bombs with TNT. In the interview, the Emir described how during one such attack, he guided a foreign fighter during a suicide mission. The foreign fighter was killed. Instead of looking at the foreign fighter as a well-respected martyr, the Emir showed no interest in the foreign fighter. He did not know the fighter’s country of origin and described him as young and ignorant, and not being able to speak Arabic.

The Emir indicates the foreigners form separate groups within IS. In line with what other sources indicate, the local fighters rarely interact with the foreigners. The Emir advises foreign fighters to stay at home. He suggests that IS-supporters should convert other people in their country of origin. He further claims that IS already has enough followers within the Islamic State to defend the Caliphate.

The Emir’s description reveals a disconnect between foreign fighters and local members of IS. IS-leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’s claim that the Islamic State offers a welcoming home to people from outside Iraq and Syria seems different in practice. This provides nuance to IS’ global call to join the Jihad. Indeed, it appears in everybody’s interest to come with a full and objective understanding of what joining IS entails. This understanding can only be obtained by researching primary sources. During the past weeks Leiden University’s Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism has met partners to improve information exchange between local and international experts regarding the phenomenon of foreign fighters and their experiences in Iraq and Syria. The partnership will allow to link theory and practice by connecting debates within the global counterterrorism community to locally available expertise and data.

The video below shows a journalist account regarding IS-members. A structural research including multiple (former) IS-members is lacking though.