Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Foreign Fighters Helping The Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant (ISIS)

Both the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and the Iraqi government have been talking about the role of foreign fighters more and more. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have claimed they have killed several foreigners, all Saudis, while ISIS has had several Internet announcements eulogizing the death of their foreign cadre. Many of these militants are being used in their traditional role of suicide bombers, but others are acting as regular gunmen or leaders in the organization.
Abu al-Dera the Tunisian who led an ISIS attack upon Kadhim Univ in Baghdad, April 20, 2014 (via Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi)
Two foreign fighters in Anbar from Kazkhstan (left) and Egypt (right), April 2014 (via Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi)

It now appears that more foreign fighters are coming to Iraq again as the conflict has increased. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant made four Internet posts listing all the non-Iraqis who have died for them, and what operations they were involved in. The first was in March 2014 when ISIS tweeted about all the men it had lost in operations from April 2013 to March 2014. Of those listed 15 were foreigners made up of 5 Tunisians, 4 Libyans, 3 Egyptians, 1 Syrian, 1 Kuwaiti, and 1 Saudi. Later in the month the group made another tweet of 30 killed from September 2013 to March 2014 in suicide operations in northern Baghdad, which included 7 from the Maghreb area meaning Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, or Morocco, 7 Tunisians, 3 Egyptians, 3 Syrians, 1 Uzbek, and 1 a Dane. These fighters took part in attacks upon the Sahwa, police, army, and a raid upon a prison in Baghdad and Salahaddin provinces. The last was named Brother Faith al Denmarki who took part in a suicide mission against an army brigade in Taji, Salahaddin in November 2013. A third release was made in April from ISIS’s southern Iraq division. It claimed 8 foreigners sacrificed themselves in Babil including 3 Moroccans, 2 Tunisians, 1 Jordanian, 1 Saudi, and an unidentified man. Then later in the month ISIS’s Diyala Division made a fourth posting about 26 suicide bombers that included 24 foreigners. 10 were from Tunisia, 5 Saudis, 2 Libyans, 2 Egyptians, 1 was from the Maghreb, 1 Iranian, 1 Tajikistani, 1 Russian or Chechen, and one Dane. The Dane was known as Abu Khattabl al-Dinmarki and carried out a mission in November 2013. More recently, ISIS posted a picture of Abu al-Dera the Tunisian who led an assault upon the Kadhim University in Baghdad’s Ur district on April 20, 2014 that involved 5 suicide bombers and killed five and wounded 18. Likewise the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) have been claiming that they have been encountering more foreigners as well. For instance, on March 14, the ISF said they killed 4 Saudis in fighting in Anbar. April 21, the Babil Police Commander told the press that security operations in the northern section of the province in Jurf al-Sakhr had killed an ISIS leader who came from Saudi Arabia. The fact that the security forces always claim the foreign fighters are Saudis and no other nationality raises red flags. It fits in with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s increasing attacks upon the Gulf States as being behind Iraq’s growing violence. In March the premier gave an interview with France 24 television where he said that Saudi Arabia and Qatar had declared war on Iraq and were sending terrorists to attack the nation. The fact that the ISF have fought and killed and foreigners recently would not be surprising. That they are all Saudi is.

Danish and Uzbek suicide bombers eulogized by ISIS in March 2014 (Long War Journal)
Foreigners played a large role in Iraq’s insurgency. The Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi came to Iraq before the 2003 invasion hoping to fight the Americans, and later used that resistance to establish himself as an international jihadist leader. His networks throughout the Middle East and the rest of the region recruited large numbers of people to come fight in Iraq. As early as September 2003, the United States military stated that it held up to 300 foreigners from 22 countries including Syrians, Iranians, Saudis, Algerians, Indians, Turks, Malaysians, Somalis, and Palestinians. Some of those came to fight the Americans before the 2003 invasion like Zarqawi, but others were new arrivals. In October 2003, the U.S. military estimated that there was as many as 1,000-3,000 foreigners fighting in the country. Two studies done, one by the Saudi government and another by an Israeli think tank in 2005 found that the overthrow of Saddam had radicalized many young Muslim men, some of which decided to come and fight against the Americans. Most of these were used for suicide bombings. A similar pattern can be seen today as the Arab Spring, the Syrian civil war, and the renewed fighting in Iraq have gotten a new generation of young men interested in jihad, and that in turn has brought them to Iraq and ISIS. They are leaving a deadly legacy in the country.


AIN, “Babel announces killing leader of ISIL elements in Jurf al-Sakhar,” 4/21/14
- "Casualties of attack targeted Imam Kadhim University rise to 18 deaths, injuries," 4/20/14

Aswat al-Iraq, “4 Saudis killed in Anbar,” 3/14/14

Bender, Bryan, “Study cites seeds of terror in Iraq: War radicalized most, probes find,” Boston Globe, 7/17/05

Bonner, Raymond and Brinkley, Joel, “U.S. intelligence not consistent in analyzing attacks,” San Francisco Chronicle, 10/28/03

Fang, Bay, “IRAQ: A magnet for angry, fervent men,” U.S. News & World Reports, 9/29/03

Al Jazeera, “Maliki: Saudi and Qatar at war against Iraq,” 3/9/14
- "Many dead in Iraq violence ahead of vote," 4/20/14

Roggio, Bill, “Dane, Uzbek among 30 suicide bombers eulogized by ISIS,” Long War Journal, 3/8/14
- “ISIS’ ‘Diyala Division’ lauds foreign suicide bombers, including Dane,” Long War Journal, 4/18/14
- “ISIS’ ‘Southern Division’ praises foreign suicide bombers,” Long War Journal, 4/9/14

Zelin, Aaron, “The Return of Foreign Fighters in the Iraq Jihad,” Jihadology, 3/6/14

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