Syria is becoming a new example of a phenomenon that has become known as “jihad terrorism:” the influx of foreign Muslims to Muslim-affiliated wars in order to take part, waging jihad against the enemy of the moment, in this case the Syrian government and their Hezbollah and Iranian backers.
Jihad tourism is nothing new. The most obvious modern example would be the Soviet-Afghan War, when Muslims from all over the Middle East went to Afghanistan to fight with the Mujahideen. Osama Bin Laden is probably the most famous jihad tourist, having traveled from Saudi Arabia to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. He provided a great deal of money and support, but reportedly saw little combat, retiring to Pakistan to run training camps after being wounded in the foot.
SOFREP has already reported on foreign fighters in Syria, specifically the Jaysh al Muhajireen wal Ansar, led by Omar al Chechen. (Omar al Chechen was reportedly killed a few weeks ago, but has since appeared in a video message disproving the claim.)
It was reported in August that at least 100 Canadians had left for Syria to fight in the jihad. Meanwhile, record numbers of Britons are traveling to jihad warfronts, prompting the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to open talks with Ireland, France, Denmark, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, and the Netherlands to try to find a way to prevent “jihad tourism.” The fear is that their citizens, having become battle-hardened jihadis in Syria, will return to conduct Islamist terrorist attacks on their home soil. Canada has also passed the “Combating Terrorism Act” in April that makes it a crime to leave Canada for the purpose of engaging in terrorist activities.
But what is the actual effect in Syria of these foreign would-be jihadists? While some, particularly the Chechens, appear to be doing some serious operations, the larger part appear to be there just for the sake of being there.
Der Spiegel reported on the city of Atmeh, a quiet city in the north of Syria, where a large number of jihadists have taken up residence. While Spiegel is generally dismissive of the jihadists, in spite of the fact that most of them are in Syria, and have the influence they do because many of the groups brought considerable combat experience to the table, they do provide a picture of the jihadists in the rebel rear areas. While many of the Salafist jihadis are in fact fighting at the front, and have taken a great deal of initiative from the FSA, especially with the recent declaration demanding shariah, there are still many who are only there because it’s cool to be a mujahideen. Regardless, the FSA and other allied groups are concerned that they will face a second front from the jihadists, who are now solidly entrenched in the rebel rear area.
The long-term effects of this “jihad tourism” have yet to be seen, but some precedent has already been set. While some members of the Afghan mujahideen from the ’80s were or could have been our allies, such as Masood and Abdul Haq, many others, particularly the Arabs who traveled there just to fight, have formed the backbone of the jihadist enemy that we have been at war with for over a decade.