Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Regime's Foreign Fighter List

In late November, the Syrian government presented the UN Security Council with a list of 142 foreigner fighters killed in Syria from September through November. A week later, the Syrian newspaper al-Watan published the list. The list is by no means comprehensive, as even some foreign fighter deaths reported by regime sources did not make the list. But if one assumes that the list is representative of the total foreign fighter population (and it may not be), there are some interesting pieces of information.

Despite Saudi Arabia’s efforts to curtail the flow of its citizens into Syria, the country claims the most fighters on the list. Second on the list, and with the most fighters relative to total national population is Libya. This in not surprising given that the seized Sinjar Records documenting foreign fighters arriving in Iraq over the Syrian border also showed Saudi Arabia with the most total fighters and Libya with the most fighters per-capita. 11 Afghans made the list as well, all killed in the north. It is surprising that Afghans would be fighting in Syria given the ongoing fighting in their own country and the fact that none were in the Sinjar Records.

More surprising was the ages of the killed foreigners. The list provides ages for 51 of the 142 fighters. The average age is 39, not the young impressionable youth often pictured as international revolutionaries. The average age of the fighters in the Sinjar Records was 24 years old, more in line with expectations.

The list includes the date and location of each fighter’s death. The incident with the most foreign deaths was the rebels’ October 11 capture of a regime base at an olive oil factory in Saraqeb in which three Turks and six Saudis were reportedly killed. This may confirm the common refrain that large numbers of foreign fighters are joining Ahrar al-Sham of the Jabha Thuwar Suriya network. A number of rebel groups participated in October 11 Saraqeb raid including the Saraqeb-based Jebel Thuwar Saraqeb Brigade, Suqour al-Sham and the Iman Brigade of Ahrar al-Sham.

It is possible that these foreigners were an independent group that followed the sound of fighting, but it is also possible that they were members of Ahrar al-Sham. One video of the attack showed a fighter wearing a Shalwar Kameez, a Pakistani style of dress that has become popular among some Arab jihadists.

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