The United Nations has warned that foreign jihadists are swarming into the twin conflicts in Iraq and Syria on “an unprecedented scale” and from countries that had not previously contributed combatants to global terrorism.
A report by the UN security council, obtained by the Guardian, finds that 15,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight alongside the Islamic State (Isis) and similar extremist groups. They come from more than 80 countries, the report states, “including a tail of countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaida”.
The UN said it was uncertain whether al-Qaida would benefit from the surge. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida who booted Isis out of his organisation, “appears to be maneuvering for relevance”, the report says.
The UN’s numbers bolster recent estimates from US intelligence about the scope of the foreign fighter problem, which the UN report finds to have spread despite the Obama administration’s aggressive counter-terrorism strikes and global surveillance dragnets.
“Numbers since 2010 are now many times the size of the cumulative numbers of foreign terrorist fighters between 1990 and 2010 – and are growing,” says the report, produced by a security council committee that monitors al-Qaida.
The UN report did not list the 80-plus countries that it said were the source of fighters flowing fighters into Iraq and Syria. But in recent months, Isis supporters have appeared in places as unlikely as the Maldives, and its videos proudly display jihadists with Chilean-Norwegian and other diverse backgrounds.