Al Qaeda-linked forces in Syria have been greatly bolstered by thousands of foreign fighters who have poured into the country from the Arab world, Europe, Asia and North America to form what security analysts say is the biggest such convocation ever.
In the summer of 2013, the number of foreign fighters, many of them volunteers for suicide missions, in jihadist ranks “exceeded that of any previous conflict in the modern history of the Muslim world,” observed Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence research Establishment in Oslo.
He has studied Al Qaeda’s swelling foreign component in Syria, which included many from the West, either converts to Islam or the sons of second or third-generation Muslim immigrant families in France, Britain, Italy and even Australia.
The average age is 23 to 26. Most analysts estimate 500-700 men in this “international brigade” have been killed fighting for the putative Islamist emirate, many of them in suicide attacks. “There are now more than 5,000 Sunni foreign fighters in the war-torn country, including more than 1,000 from the West,” Hegghammer said.
That is more than the number of foreigners who went to Afghanistan in the 1979-89 war against the invading Soviets, the conflict that spawned Al Qaeda and the jihadist campaign against the West and its Arab allies.
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