Abu Abdullah al Kosovi. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
A jihadist from Kosovo recently appeared on a video from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham (or Levant), one of al Qaeda’s two main branches in Syria, to praise jihad and encourage others to fight in the country. The Kosovo jihadist’s statement was released just one week prior to news that more than 1,000 Europeans, including 150 from Kosovo, are now thought to be fighting inside Syria.
The Kosovan jihadist, known as Abu Abdullah al Kosovi, “speaks in his native tongue” from the city of Azaz in Aleppo province in northern Syria, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the statement.
“The most pleasurable thing in life is jihad,” al Kosovi says, while imploring Muslims in Europe and throughout the world to put aside their Western comforts and fight in the trenches in Syria.
In the past, the ISIS has distributed speeches by fighters from China, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Kazakhstan. And foreign fighters are known to both fill leadership positions and fight in the ranks of the ISIS. Omar al Chechen (or al Shishani), the leader of the Muhajireen Army, which fights under the command of the ISIS, also is featured in ISIS propaganda.
ISIS propaganda seeks to attract potential recruits from a wide range of nationalities, including those from outside the Middle East. The al Qaeda group has issued English-language posters “with titles such as ‘Virtues of Jihad,’ ‘Virtues of Shooting,’ and ‘Bringing Mankind into Light,'” according to SITE.
The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s other main branch in Syria, has also promoted jihadists from outside of the region. Jihadists from the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Turkey, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Algeria, and Tunisia, have all appeared in Al Nusrah Front propaganda. And Westerners are thought to have also served as suicide bombers for the Al Nusrah Front. Most recently, jihadists reported that a Frenchman known as Abu al-Qa’qa’ al Firansi carried out a suicide attack in Hammam for the Al Nusrah Front, according to SITE.
Europeans joint the fight in Syria
Intelligence officials are becoming increasingly worried that Western Muslims are being radicalized in Syria and recruited by either the ISIS or the Al Nusrah Front. According to Der Spiegel, a German intelligence report estimates that more than 1,000 Europeans are believed to be fighting in Syria.
“Security authorities estimate that around 1,000 volunteer jihadists from across Europe are now in Syria — compared to just 250 in late 2012,” Der Spiegel reported. “Around 90 allegedly come from Britain, 120 from Belgium, 50 from Denmark and approximately 150 from Kosovo.” Eight Germans are thought to have been killed while fighting in Syria.
While the report does not give an estimate on the number of Westerners who have joined al Qaeda’s branches or allied Islamist groups, US intelligence officials have told The Long War Journal that the majority of them do indeed flock to the Islamists.
“Al Qaeda is better suited to integrate foreign fighters into the battlespace,” one intelligence official told The Long War Journal. “Al Qaeda has the experience to make this happen; it has done this — in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, North Africa, Mali — and done it well. Their ideology is often appealing to the Westerner willing to leave his home to fight, and al Qaeda has far better resources to facilitate their efforts.”
“Al Qaeda excels at recruiting foreigners, including Westerners, training them, organizing them, and putting their talents to work,” another intelligence official said. “Look no further than Pakistan’s tribal areas to see how well al Qaeda does this.” Al Qaeda is known to host training camps for foreign jihadists, including Westerners, in Pakistan’s tribal agencies, specifically in North and South Waziristan.
Another intelligence official described Western jihadists as “force multipliers” for al Qaeda, and said their ability to use Western passports makes them quite dangerous if the terror group decides to task them with external attacks against Europe or the US.
“The Syrian jihad is especially troubling given how much easier it is to get to Syria from Europe as it is to get to, say Pakistan, or Afghanistan, or even Yemen or Somalia,” the official said. “The reality is we can’t track all of those who enter Syria to fight.”
“Some of us [in the intelligence community] believe it is a matter of time before a Western jihadist who fought in Syria is used in either a failed plot or a successful attack against the West,” he stated.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.