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Just sharing – Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq

foreign fighters-updated 2015-soufan groupReport published by The Soufan Group, December 2015.

Click here to read or download the report.

Key Finding

  • In June 2014, The Soufan Group released its initial Foreign Fighters in Syria report, which identified approximately 12,000 foreign fighters from 81 countries.
  • Nearly eighteen months later, despite sustained international effort to contain the Islamic State and stem the flow of militants traveling to Syria, the number of foreign fighters has more than doubled.
  • Based on its own investigation, The Soufan Group has calculated that between 27,000 and 31,000 people have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State and other violent extremist groups from at least 86 countries.
  • The increase is evidence that efforts to contain the flow of foreign recruits to extremist groups in Syria and Iraq have had limited impact.
  • The increase in foreign fighters is not uniform throughout the world; certain regions and countries have seen more significant rises than others.
  • The number of foreign fighters from Western Europe has more than doubled since June 2014, while it has remained relatively flat in North America.
  • Foreign fighters from Russia and Central Asia have shown a significant rise; some estimates suggest a near 300% increase in known fighters since June 2014.
  • Recruitment within the United States has been mostly reliant on social media, particularly in the initial phases of the process.
  • In the countries with the largest flows, recruitment to the Islamic State has become more focused and localized, with fewer people just leaving on their own; family and friends are playing a greater role.
  • The average rate of returnees to Western countries is now at around 20-30%, presenting a significant challenge to security and law enforcement agencies that must assess the threat they pose.

About Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Muhammad Haniff Bin Hassan is a Fellow. He holds a PhD and M.Sc. in Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (previously known as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies), Nanyang Technological University. He received his early education in Aljunied Islamic School. He then continued his tertiary education at the Faculty of Islamic Studies, National University of Malaysia, with honours in Syar`iah and Civil law. Mr. Haniff is also active in social activities as a member of the Islamic Religious Council Appeal Board, HSBC Insurance Islamic Advisory Board from 2000 to 2014, Association of Islamic Religious Teachers and Scholars of Singapore (PERGAS) and Management Committee of Al-Irsyad Islamic School. He writes extensively in Berita Harian (a local Malay newspaper) and has also published articles in The Straits Times. He has published six books in his name, co-authored a monograph and helped publish two books for PERGAS and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore. His personal website in Malay is at


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