European foreign fighters in Syria

This post will be updated when relevant. If you have any relevant links or whatever, use the comment section below (moderated, so you comment will not appear immediately or not at all if you don’t want that).

List of updates:

  • Note for journalists: Yes, you are allowed to use everything I have here. No, you don’t have to ask permission. Yes, you do have to give credit to me or, if I name a source, to that particular source.
  • Update 14-6-2013: Swedish and first British fighter to die in Syria (international news)
  • Update 12-6-2013: all sections updated!
  • Update 7-5-2013: Background, Dutch news (recruiting), video (Danish fighter)
  • Update 17-4-2013: Backgrounder, international news, Dutch news
  • Update 3-4-2013: Backgrounder and Dutch news (with Salafi media campaign)
  • Update 28-3-2013: Everything (major update!)
  • Update 27-3-2013: Dutch news: mother urges son to come home
  • Update 26-3-2013: International news: speech Moaz Al-Khatib addressing European fighters and mothers; backgrounds
  • Update 24-3-2013: Dutch and Belgian news
  • Update 21-3-2013: (via @tintin1957 and Pieter van Ostaeyen): France – Testimony of Tunisian-French fighter, background by Thomas Hegghammer and new videos
  • Update 20-3-2013 Dutch and Belgian news: one person killed, list of fighters
  • Update 17-12-2013: yes finally an update again: the latest report of ICSR


In the last months there have been numerous reports of European foreign fighters in Syria to fight against the Al-Assad regime. In this post I will monitor the main news reports and analysis on this issue, focussing in particular on Dutch fighters but also other European fighters. For now I will divide this overview into four categories: Analysis and background, Written Newsreports, Youtube videos and a Dutch section (featuring only Dutch language features).

Background and analysis

Update 17-12-2013
This ICSR Insight provides an update of their April estimate, offering the most comprehensive and richly resourced account of the Syrian foreign fighter phenomenon from open sources. Based on more than 1,500 sources, we estimate that up to 11,000 individuals from 74 nations have become opposition fighters in Syria – nearly double our previous estimate. Among Western Europeans, the number has more than tripled from (up to) 600 in April to 1,900 now.

A few other conclusions

  • Western Europeans now represent up to 18 per cent of the foreign fighter population in Syria, with most recruits coming from France (63-412), Britain (43-366), Germany, (34-240), Belgium (76-296), and the Netherlands (29-152).
  • Adjusting for population size, the most heavily affected countries are Belgium (up to 27 foreign fighters per million), Denmark (15), the Netherlands (9), Sweden (9), Norway (8), and Austria (7).
  • Individuals from Middle Eastern countries continue to represent the majority of foreign fighters (around 70 per cent). We estimate that up to 6,774 non-Syrian Arabs and an additional 523 non-Arabs from the (wider) region have gone to Syria.The five countries with the largest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria are all part of the Middle East: Jordan is the single biggest contributor (up to 2,089), followed by Saudi Arabia (1,016), Tunisia (970), Lebanon (890), and Libya (556).
  • Questions they take up in their analysis are: What groups do they join? What explains the deep rise? Will the trend continue? How does the current mobilisation compare? How foreign is the opposition?

See Peter Neumann (director) briefly explaining the conclusions.
The report and the research were carried out by By Aaron Y. Zelin, ICSR Rena and Sami David Fellow – with contributions from other ICSR staff. Read the whole report here: ICSR Insight: Up to 11,000 foreign fighters in Syria; steep rise among Western Europeans / ICSR
Update: 12-6-2013

Jihadica has two posts breaking down the use of twitter by so-called ‘jihadi’s’: One & Two.

Die Welt has a piece on Salafism as youth culture (German).

Challenging Militarized Masculinities in OpenDemocracy by Amina Mama

Using’martyr’ posts to analyze ‘foreign fighters’ aiding Syrian rebels by Mike Brunker
Clint Watss has two interesting posts up Syria: Suffering the effects of the 2nd Foreign Fighter Glut & Syria’s Foreign Fighters: Dissecting The Next Decade of Conflict


Update: 7-5-2013:
At the Economist an article by Thomas Hegghammer: Will they come home to roost? The government is worried about British jihadists in Syria—with reason. According to him:

Foreign conflicts are much more likely to produce domestic terrorists if they involve a group that wants to attack Western targets. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan regularly trained foreign fighters and dispatched them westward. Syria boasts nothing similar.

At Jihadology a guest post by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi on Majlis Shura al-Mujahidin fi Aknaf Bayt al-Maqdis, one of the factions sympathetic to al-Qaeda’s worldview


UPDATE: 17-4-2013
At ICCT The Hague, Sergei Boeke and Daan Weggemans try to shed some light on the question as to why more European foreign fighters to Syria compared to Mali.

Australians in Syria, with lots of background including the relation between Al Qaeda and Jahbat al Nusra.


UPDATE: 3-4-2013

In the Washington Post David Ignatius wrote an article ‘Sorting out the Syrian opposition‘. At Syria Comment Aron Lund ‘picks it apart’. Or rather tears it apart. This is a must read!

Aaron Y. Zelin reports on European foreign fighters in Syria at ICSR Insight blog (read also his excellent blog Jihadology). The ICSR Insight shows the significant extent to which the Syrian conflict has mobilised Muslims from across the world: between 140 and 600 fighters going to Syria since early 2011 (7-11% of the foreign fighter total). For Belgium he estimates 14-85 have joined up and for the Netherlands 5-107. Currently between 4-75 Belgians and between 4-104 Dutch people are present; also other European countries are listed. The big gap between, for example, between 4-104 Dutch fighters, also shows how much of this is uncertain of course. (Based upon my own sources I would say there are between 50-70 Dutch fighters; some may alread have returned others left for Syria last week. The Belgian figures appear to be a little higher then my Dutch estimates. In both cases based upon my sources within those networks). Aaron Y. Zelin also mentions eight European martyrdom notices. The Netherlands (2 or 3 killed) and Belgium (2 killed) are not included. Cautioning people not see every foreign fighter as a jihadi and not everyone joining a jihadist group as someone with a fully formed jihadist worldview, he lists several motivations for joining the rebels. Nevertheless there are good reasons for authorities to be worried and he advises security services “to monitor the situation closely and adopt an intelligence led, highly discriminate approach towards dealing with returning fighters”.

Pieter van Ostaeyen tries to answer the question: What is appealing Europeans to Jihad in Syria?. He also translated an interview with Islamic News Agency Haqq Ab? Hamza al-Muh?jir, the spokesman of Liw?’ al-Muj?hid?n f? Bil?d as-Sh?m.


UPDATE: 28-3-2013
On Pieter van Ostaeyen’s blog a post by Shami Witness (@ElSaltador)about growing tensions between two factions of the Syrian Resistance, Jabhat an-Nusra and the Kata’ib al-Farouq in Syria.


UPDATE: 27-3-2013
Non-Syrian, Islamist Fighters Can Be a Touchy Subject for Rebels – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

After repeated questioning, an FSA commander in the Hama countryside stated: “Yes, there are non-Syrian fighters among our ranks in the Al-Nusra Front, as well as in the Free Syria brigade. However, these non-Syrians represent a small percentage of fighters in these brigades, less than 20% of the former and 5% of the latter.”

Tunisian Jihadists Fighting in Syria – Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East

At present, Tunisia estimates that around 40% of foreign jihadists in Syria hold Tunisian nationality. More than two-thirds of them are fighting in the ranks of Jabhat al-Nusra. A number of their families have organized demonstrations demanding that the authorities return their sons to Tunisia. At the same time, the Guide of the Ennahda Party, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, took the occasion as an opportunity to stress that his movement was not responsible for the phenomenon.


Middle East Week

Thomas Hegghammer, Zuckerman fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, joins me to discuss Islamist foreign fighters. Topics covered include:

Growth of foreign fighter phenomenon after 1980
How states view foreign fighters that originate from their country
Western fears that those who go abroad as foreign fighters will return to their home country to carry out attacks
Role of foreign fighters in current conflicts
Policy implications for combatting foreign fighters

More by Thomas Hegghammer

The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters
Should I stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists’ Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting
Thomas Hegghammer on Twitter @Hegghammer
Book: Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism since 1979

Recent videos show international makeup of Syrian jihad – Threat Matrix

In the last several weeks, jihadist propaganda and news reports from Syria have increasingly mentioned fighters from foreign countries, including China, Chechnya, Germany, Palestine, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Video Shows Syrian Suicide Bomber’s Last Day –

Jabhat al-Nusra, a Syrian rebel group accused of ties to Al Qaeda, posted a video online this week that documents the last day in the life of a suicide bomber who killed himself in an attack on a government checkpoint in January.


Stop Trying to Make Syria’s War Into a Sectarian Conflict – Atlantic Mobile

It paints a picture of a Middle Eastern conflict in which religious and sectarian differences inexorably determine political outcomes. Because it suggests that such violence is inevitable and may even be biologically or culturally predetermined, it exonerates the Assad regime and other countries that have failed to act even in the face of extreme state-sponsored violence against innocent civilians — as when Syrian government forces bound and shot 49 children during a massacre of 108 civilians in Houla last spring.

The sectarian story is also wrong for a less obvious reason. Syrians — the real people on the ground who happen to live in Syria — don’t conform to the sectarian stereotypes that policymakers and pundits are promoting with such gusto. Of course, some Syrians identify strongly with their ethnic or religious communities. But like people all over the world — including here in the United States — many Syrians hold multiple allegiances, sympathizing with more than one sectarian identity or none at all, or are of mixed backgrounds. […]

But this narrative — and the devastation that could come from it — can be avoided if we debunk at least three myths. First, sectarianism is not about intractable religiosity. […]

Second, Syrians have been mobilizing against Assad for reasons that are not in fact sectarian.[…]

Third, framing the war as sectarian is anything but objective.

British photojournalist John Cantlie was crossing into Syria from Turkey with a guide and Dutch colleague two months ago when he was captured by jihadist fighters – some of them were fellow Britons.

International News

Update: 14-6-2013

Channel4 brings the news of the first British fighter, Ibrahim al-Mazwagi, to die in Syria. The film follows the last months of his life.

Also mentions the death of Jonas Aref El Hassan from Sweden:

Picture via @SyrischNieuws

Update 12-6-2013:

Syrian group urges foreign fighters to leave – Al Jazeera Foreign fighers play growing role on both sides of the conflict. With a little background on the call to foreigners to leave.
Former US soldier accused of fighting with al Qaeda group in Syria – MSNBC


UPDATE: 17-4-2013

About 30 Swedish fighters in Syria.


UPDATE: 28-3-2013
According to the Telegraph ‘up to 100’ British Muslims are fighting in Syria. Authorities fear that when coming home these men could carry out terrorist attacks.

On Al-Arabiya Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, reflects on Moaz Al-Khatib speech (see previous updates) wherein Al-Khatib responds to criticism against the opposition for allowing foreign fighters to participate in battles in Syria. He responded: “How dare you request this from us when no one does anything against the Russians, Iranians and Hezbollah members fighting alongside the regime?”. Al-Rashed agrees and states that if others had rushed to support Syrian rebels earlier this situation would not exist.

On Al-Shorfa a short analysis of Jahbat al-Nusra copying the Al Qaeda in Iraq and recruiting foreign fighters from Spain (and), Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Yemen and Saudi-Arabia.

Long War Journal on social media jihad on Tunisian ‘martyrs’ in Syria.

Mona alami on Syria’s ‘Salafist’ foreign legions in the Daily Star.

According to Le Figaro, there are at least 50 and as many as 80 French citizens are fighting with jihadist groups in Syria. According to the French anti-terrorism Judge Marc Trévidic the presence of French jihadists in Syria presents French authorities with an paradox. France officially supports the overthrow of the Assad regime making it difficult to state that it does not support those who are fighting the war.

The Danish daily newspaper Politiken reported several weeks ago that a 30-year-old Danish convert to Islam, Abdel Malik, was killed in Syria. A Facebook page, initially launched to protest a comedy show making fun of the Danish immigrant and Muslim community, created a fund to help support Malik’s family: his wife (a convert) and four young children.

Another Danish Muslim, Slimane Hadj Abderrahmane, was also killed a few weeks earlier. He is the son of a Danish mother and Algerian father and was in Guantanamo for two years and released after pressure from the Danish government. In an interview with Politiken in 2011 he stated he was not afraid to die: “Jihad means serving God and by doing so you achieve justice”.

The Danish Jyllands-Posten reports on Abu Ahmed, Abu Ahmed, imam of the Quba Amager mosque in Copenhagen, who allegedly stated that Abderrahmane was “real man” and being “heroic” to die in Syrian war. According to J-P Ahmed joined a Danish Salafist group, Hjæ resulting in a campaign to encourage young Danish Muslims to go to Syria to fight. Hjæ says the war in Syria should be supported “financially, physically and verbally.”

An article on Maghreb youth answer Al-Qaeda call, explores the reasons for Maghreb youth to go to Syria and compares it with campaigns in Iraq and Mali.


Update: 26-3-2013
In his speech for the Arab Summit in Doha, (former) leader of the Syrian National Coalition mentions receiving letters from mothers in France and the Netherlands expressing their concerns about their children who went to Syria to fight. There are many Syrian mothers, a French mother, a Dutch mother, who have sent me letters saying “Please, my child has gone for jihad in Syria, what do you think of this?” I say that your son is one of real conscious who cannot take the slaughter of an entire people. But I say to all the youth also, if your family needs you, do not come. Serving one’s parents even if they are not Muslim is the essence of struggling for the sake of God. (after 7:10) (Sources H, NW, MC, KA on twitter). Interestingly Dutch media emphasize about either Moaz al-Khatib urging Dutch youth to stay at home or him praising the Dutch fighters. You can find a transcript here. (Via Yasmeen Mobayed).

Update 21-3-2013: (via @tintin1957 and Pieter van Ostaeyen): France – Testimony of Tunisian-French fighter
France24 brings the testimony of Abu Ayman, a Tunesian architect who has joined Ansar Al-Sharia with two friends. They went to Jordan with the intent to help, not necessarily to fight in Syria. They got into contact with rebels and went to Syria where they separated. The fighters, according to Abu Ayman, do not label themselves as foreign, but as muhajirun (emigrants). In his unit there are people from the US, France, Malaysia, Romania and others. See also the updates in the video-section.


Syria: the foreign fighters joining the war against Bashar al-Assad | World news | The Guardian

war against Bashar al-Assad

Jihadi veterans of Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan join callow foreign idealists on frontline of Aleppo

The Guardian, Sunday 23 September 2012

Foreign fighters fuel the sectarian flames in Syria – Middle East – World – The Independent

Fighters from as many as 29 countries have filtered into Syria to join a civil war that has split along sectarian lines, increasingly pitting the ruling Alawite community against the majority Sunni Muslims, UN human rights investigators said today.

Insight: Foreign fighters seek Islamic state in post-Assad Syria | Reuters

Huddled around a fire in a bombed-out building in Aleppo, foreign jihadists say they are fighting for a radical Islamic state in Syria – whether local rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad like it or not.

Foreign Jihadists Declare War on Syria’s Assad – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Last week, the first European fighter voluntarily crossed the border and entered into Syria to fight alongside the Free Syrian Army against the Assad regime. He was “a Frenchman who had just turned 24 and comes from a wealthy family,” reports Abu Rami. “He just turned up here with his credit card in hand.” Abu Rami says he tried in vain to talk the man, whose parents are Algerian, out of it. “He bought a gun, we gave him a short bit of training and then he went in with one of our units,” he says.


Videos (GRAPHIC!)

Update: 12-6-2013

Former US soldier accused of fighting with Al Qaeda group in Syria:

[youtube:] [youtube:]


Update: 7-5-2013

Video of Danish convert Abdel Malik (see International News update 28-3-2013) who died in Syria while belong to the Katibat al-Muhajirin faction (in much of the press coverage it is stated that he belongs to Jabhat al Nusra). More on this group at Pieter van Ostaeyen’s blog: Katibat al-Muhajirin – The foreigner’s brigade



Update: 17-4-2013

The youth go on jihad, because…(a popular video)



Update: 28-3-2013
The video below was put on the news site Pownews. It is apparently is made a few days before the young man in the film, Zakariyah Al Hollandi, went to Syria. He criticizes the silence and lack of activism among Muslims against injustices and insults against the prophet Muhammad.Zakariyah states that it is time for Muslims to stick to together and to stand up against the infidels who will never accept Muslims anyway. Muslims should not be afraid and be strong, regardless with the infidels say. According to Zakariyah Dutch society is weak, oppressive to women, the men are weak. If people tell Muslims to leave the Netherlands, he says the reply should be: get the hell out of our own countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Palestine.


Update 21-3-2013: (via @tintin1957 and Pieter van Ostaeyen): France – Testimony of Tunisian-French fighter, background by Thomas Hegghammer and new videos

A tribute to the fallen Tunesian Muhajirun in Syria

A tribute to Abou Souhaib, member of the Tunesian Ansar Al-Sharia unit

A foreign fighter giving a talk in front of his companions explaining he left everything behind to fight for Islam (Brigade 138, Aleppo)

An obituary of Swedish fighter Abu Kamal

Story of Chinese fighter Bo Wang (via Pieter van Ostaeyen and NN). Featured on several Facebook pages of European Muslims.


The following four videos I have obtained through Dutch journalist Harald Doornbos, except the last one which I received from two other sources, who will remain anonymous. Also historian, Arabist and islamicist on current affairs in the Middle East Pieter van Ostaeyen has a good, and updated, post with these videos.


Apparently, you can hear at 2.11 ‘Is ie dood?’ and at 2.19 ‘Wat zeg je?’ (Dutch for: ‘Is he dead’ and ‘What do you say?’). Note that I do not hear it, but others did.


Dutch / Flemish in the first 20 seconds. Apparently here you can find Belgian fighter DeMulder (see update 20-3-2013 below)


Dutch from 1:50.


Flemish from 1:35

Dutch / German
Update: 12-6-2013

Public outcry and revulsion because of a video that was discovered in which allegedly Dutch speaking (possibly Flemish) fighters behead a person. You can see a report HERE. Both Belgian and Dutch prosecutors have launched an investigation.

The Netherlands has seen a wave of media publicity on the foreign fighters in Syria issue. In particular the people advocating their support have been in the media. You can see an overview HERE (in Dutch).

Belgians crack down Anjem Choudary over YouTube rants supporting Abu Imraan the leader of Sharia4Belgium, currently in prison.

Florian Flade: Man from Düsseldorf fighting in Syria (German).

Third Belgian died in Syria; killed in while sleeping – De Morgen (Dutch). There are some doubts about this story however. The original story in De Standaard (Dutch) has only one source: the mother in law of the Belgian fighter. According to De Ware Religie (True Religion, a site that supports the Islamic fighters in Syria) Tarik died on the battlefield when he penetrated the ranks of ‘Iranian’ fighters. According to True Religion several people in the ranks of the Dutch fighters have confirmed the latter story.

The Guardian – Germany fears return of European foreign fighters.


UPDATE: 7-5-2013
In a post on De Ware Religie (True Religion) Abou Moussa responds to allegations of being a recruiter. He denies and instead states it is the lack of support in the West and among Muslims that make others go to Syria to assist in humanitarian aid or to fight.

According to Trouw a man called Izzet Al-Nour preaches throughout the Netherlands on the duties of Dutch Muslims in Syria. He describes about being an outcast in the mosques in the Netherlands. According to him he doesn’t say young Muslims have to go but he does make clear that they are good Muslims if they do.


In a report by television program Eenvandaag together with Omroep West, it is mentioned that parents of the Syrian fighters and other concerned parents say there is a large network of recruiters in the Hague and that their children might become the victims of human traffickers working for the global jihad. You can see the whole program here:
Get Microsoft Silverlight

Omroep West
According to parents in the Hague there are several recruiters active in the city who they blame for their sons going to Syria. According to the report of Omroep West, parents are so afraid they hide the passports from their children.

In a report by Nieuwsuur Abou Moussa and Abou Soumaya talking about motives of why Muslims they know go to Syria. They deny any allegations of recruiting these people.


UPDATE: 17-4-2013

On 16-4 the Belgian leader Fouad Belkacem aka Abu Imraan, was arrested suspected of recruiting youth for Syria.
According to Dutch intelligence there is no proof that Dutch youth is being recruited. They have the impression that group dynamics, enhanced by social media, play a more important role in the Netherlands. Belgian fighter Raphaël Gendron is killed in Syria. A report by a regional news agency on Victor Droste, aka Zakariyah al Hollandi (see video section) one of the Dutch fighters in Syria: [youtube:] Mr. Bonte, the Belgian father of Jejoen Bonte, who is fighting in Syria, went there to get his son back. No luck yet, however. He gives an interview to the Belgian VTM tv station, while resting in Turkey://
UPDATE: 3-4-2013 Belgian TV news reports that the parents of Brian Demulder have filed charges against Belgian authorities (I think, this is not exactly clear). They are supported by the radical right wing party Vlaams Belang. There is a strong counter-reaction among Dutch Salafis (and the likes) against foreign fighters. One Dutch network is showing a video of Syrian shaykh Adnane Al-Aroor who states that Syria does not need foreign fighters and that they will not be welcomed. [youtube:] Another network shows a video ‘Jihad in Syria’ in which shaykh Yaser Brhami also states Syria doesn’t need foreign fighters. Both shaykhs claim that jihad is an obligation for Syrians but not for Muslims worldwide. Both also claim these foreign fighters are a burden fo Syrian rebels; Yaser Brhami claims they will be seen as evidence of Al Qaeda influences (and I would add, triggering an international response against rebels). [youtube:] ****   Update: 28-3-2013 Dutch journalists Carel Brendel, tries to put the debates among Dutch Muslims about fighters in Syria in the broader perspective of a clash between Salafis and Muslim Brothers who call for da’wa and those Muslims (sharia4Belgium, sharia4holland) who aim for sharia and call for jihad (Brendel makes clear he dislikes both). According to him the mainstream Salafis have moderated their speeches resulting in being called ‘democrats’ by the ‘jihadis’. He refers to the Salafi site Al Yaqeen (of the As-Soennah mosque in the Hague) issueing three warnings against what they view as a illegitimate jihad. First a fatwa by imam Ahmad Salam who warns against the practice of excommunication (takfir), emphasizes the obligation to obey parents and the risk the international community to refuse to help Syrian rebels out of fear of spreading the takfir message. Second is dr. Rafik Nagi who also emphasizes the fight in Syria is not jihad and instead means disobeying parents and islamic scholars. According to him there is no waliy ul-Amr (the political leader of Muslims) or body of scholars calling for jihad, except those of Syria but then only for the Syrian people. He criticizes youth who, according to him, make up their own version of jihad. Instead he calls for Muslims to set up and assist in humanitarian aid. The third warning is a reference to the speech of Moaz Al-Khatib (see previous update). The discussion Nagi refers to, on the definition of jihad, also occurred during a meeting with concerned parents in Amsterdam. After this meeting the imam and several other people of the Al-Kabir mosque invited youth opposing their views to have a smaller meeting. The young people filmed it and put it on Youtube, referred to by Brendel: [youtube:] The clash Brendel refers to appears to be several years old already, but I think it is even longer. It is a similar debate compared to 2001/2002 (I can’t go into the details of that here). According to Brendel we should not only focus on what he calls ‘polderjihadis’ but also on the da’wa preachers who are very conservative according to him. A few will feature this Sunday at the National Converts Day (Bekeerlingendag) in the Blue Mosque (Blauwe Moskee) in Amsterdam. This mosque recently featured in the Dutch press according to which the neighbourhood is opposed to the mosque having radical preachers such as Khalid Yasin and Haitham al-Haddad. At the convert day hamza Tzortzis will speak. He is a member of Islamic Research and Education Academy (iERA) just like Haitham al-Haddad, Jalal Ibn Saeed and Yusuf Estes (the latter is also speaking at the convert day). A few people spread a pamphlet against the Blue Mosque that does not speak explicitly of radical preachers however although the writers do appear to be opposedto particiular activities(and more in particular a lack of activities aimed at the neighbourhood). In earlier cases the people of the Blue Mosque rejected the criticism as badly informed, based upon statements taken out of context and stated that the preachers (like Yasin) never made radical statements in their meetings (which is correct as far as I know). On the blog Wijblijvenhier (Here to stay) convert Noureddine Steenvoorden talks about his feelings of being powerless, of sadness and injustice when he learns one of the visitors of his mosque went to Syria. He sees their intention to fight for the sake of God as something beautiful and noble but lacking wisdom while at the same time being angry and frustrated because of the atrocities against brothers and sisters. Dutch tv program The Fifth Day (De Vijfde Dag) broadcasted an interview with a Dutch fighter. This young man, a recent convert, talks about his desire to fight against injustice and for God. Get Microsoft SilverlightBekijk de video in andere formaten. Dutch tv program Pauw and Witteman had imam Yasin Elforkani as a guest. He knows the young man featured in the above mention program The Fifth Day. He refutes the jihad concepts these young people adhere to referring to Islamic scholars and people from Syria. He calls for protection for these youth against the, according to him, misperception of the call for jihad. Also a cousin and an uncle of Soufiane, one of the fighters in Syria, are present. Soufiane himself says he is there for humanitarian help, but he remains vague about it. Elforkani challenges the idea that youth from the Netherlands can do anything there as well as their ideas on and understanding of jihad. He also states that these youths do not listen do imams and do not take the time to study jihad. According to the Belgian daily newspaper De Standaard Belgian authorities have established a taskforce in order to prevent young people to join the war in Syria. Chams Eddine Zaougui criticizes the approach for being unrealistic in the era of the Internet. He also criticizes one of the main narrat
ives in the media: the opportunistic recruiter and the naieve young Muslim referring to the work of experts like Chapman and Hegghammer. In the Netherlands the Institute for Multicultural Affairs, Forum, emphasizes the need to prevent youth to go to Syria. According to its director Sadik Harchaoui it concerns youth having all kinds of problems: in debts, police contacts, school drop outs and without work. reports about a young Dutch convert and talented football player, Jayden – 15 years old, who apparently went to Syria. The news report also mentions that young people are offered 5-10.000 euro if they go to Syria; this is unconfirmed however. According to Jayden he is doing the right thing; his father however is afraid he is fighting. **** Update: 27-3-2013 On their blog Stukje Duiding, political analysts Stephan de Vries en Dieuwertje Kuijpers, criticize Dutch media reports as they focus mostly on the relationship with the Netherlands, emotions and backgrounds of the young men (he is such a nice boy) and while it should be regarded as part of a global movement and global development. There are reports of a third Dutch fighter killed in Syria. Not sure how reliable that is (again). Pieter van Ostaeyen was at Belgian radio to talk about Jabhat an-Nusra. RNW has a short report with a mother whose Dutch son (Soufian) is currently in Syria. She calls her son to return (in Arabic/Dutch):**** Update: 24-3-2013 One of the plans of the Dutch government appears to be a ‘jihad-lecture‘ for police officers. I don’t know who called this a ‘jihad-lecture’ (or coursre) but they probably mean jihad in a specific way. Maybe they should begin the lecture with teasing out the different ideas about and dimensions of jihad… Dutch TV-program Pauw and Witteman had a Dutch convert among its guests. This young man, Abdelkarim Honing, knows the circles of the Dutch Syria travellers quite well and explained the reasons for joining the fight. Newspaper AD reports on three Dutch Kurds from Rotterdam arrested some time ago right before travelling to Syria. Their court trial will begin soon. News- and background program Eenvandaag reports that Dutch political parties want the government to investigate if it is possible to revoke the Dutch passports of potential fighters. This would be an unprecedent move since we never saw that in other case of Dutch people fighting abroad in the past. It is not only to prevent them from travelling to Syria, but also (at least some parties want that) to prevent them from returning to the Netherlands. They also show the story of the Belgian young man Brian Demulder, see below. They also talk with Peter Velle, someone who strongly identifies himself as ‘ex-Muslim’:

sitestat// //

Belgian media report about Jejoen Bontinck, allegedly a member of Sharia4Belgium, who has travelled to Syria to fight. According to his father his son wants to return but is held against his will. His father describes the recruitment practices of people involved with Sharia4Belgium.

Dutch media reveal that there is a second loss in Syria: this time it is Sofian Elfassi. At least according to the media. I have strong doubts about this and I think this is a case of mistaken identity.

Dutch media appears to be in a race about identifying Syria-travellers. identifies a Surinamese convert and, Jordi a Dutch convert. NOS states there are about 20-25 people from Delft among the Syria travellers.


Update 20-3-2013 Dutch and Belgian news: one person killed, list of fighters:

Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant brings the news that one Moroccan-Dutch fighter in Syria was killed. The young man, Mourad, was in Syria with his brother. Mourad was killed last week, but, according to the newspaper, his brother stays despite pleas of his mother to return.

Dutch television program Eenvandaag brings a list of two Dutch, four Belgian and one German fighters in Syria with pictures and films.

Belgian newspaper De Standaard reveals that one Belgian fighter (Brian Demulder) is identified on one of the videos (HERE or in the list above, video 2) that were discovered by Dutch journalist Harald Doornbos. De Standaard claims to have discovered the videos themselves but it appears they have copy-pasted the work of Pieter van Ostaeyen. (Which me remind me also for Dutch journalists, giving a blog as your source doesn’t harm anyone!). Van Ostaeyen also wrote on Jabhat an-Nusra on his blog.


Moroccan-Dutch organisations hold a meeting about Syria travellers

Dutch report that the Amsterdam El Kabir mosque is holding a meeting about Dutch youth travelling to Syria. The meeting is meant for parents, imams and officials and is organized by several Moroccan-Dutch organisations who express their concern regarding stories about Dutch youth wanting to go to Syria to fight against Al-Assad.


Hayan M, the disabled German man (from Kassel) in the video, calls German Muslims for Jihad in Syria:

Syrien: Rebell ruft in Terrorvideo auf Deutsch zum Dschihad auf – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Der Mann heißt Hajan M., ist 38 Jahre alt und hat lange Jahre in Kassel gelebt. Inzwischen kämpft er auf der Seite der Aufständischen in Syrien und ruft in mehreren verstörenden Videos aus dem Krisengebiet erstmals auf Deutsch andere Radikale dazu auf, in den Dschihad zu ziehen. Die Streifen, die im Netz kursieren und die der Norddeutsche Rundfunk am Dienstagabend in Teilen ausstrahlen wird, werfen ein Schlaglicht auf die deutschen Extremisten im Nahen Osten.

Tientallen jongeren terug na desillusie in Syrië | Mediawerkgroep Syrië

Story about Brian de Mulder ‘recruited’ by Sharia4Belgium.

Brian De Mulder

Eén van de jonge moslimstrijders die nog wel in Syrië rondloopt is Brian De Mulder (19 jaar) uit de regio Antwerpen. Hij werd geronseld door Sharia4Belgium zoals de meeste jongeren die vanuit België naar Syrië trokken.


8 thoughts on “European foreign fighters in Syria

  1. “as when Syrian government forces bound and shot 49 children during a massacre of 108 civilians in Houla last spring.”

    FALSE. The FSA committed the Houla massacre, as even western media have conceded. You cite Spiegel to make one point, yet ignore it for your false Houla claim.

    • I didn’t make any claim, but thanks anyway for the links. Very useful.

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