NBC News has partnered with West Point to translate and analyze hundreds of documents turned over to them last month by a man who says he stole them from an ISIS commander. The documents allowed NBC to create a database of over 4,000 ISIS recruits and analyze the makeup of the group’s fighting force.
One of the findings was that hundreds of ISIS recruits, amounting to 10% of the total force covered by the documents, were from western nations:
The three biggest feeder countries were Saudia Arabia (797 fighters), Tunisia (640) and Morocco (260), although Tunisia has the highest per capita rate. But they came from all corners of the world — from China (167) to Iceland (1) and Australia (13) to Trinidad and Tobago (2).
About 10 percent hailed from Western nations, including the United Kingdom (57) and the United States (14). In Europe, France (128) and Germany (80) had the highest numbers.
The international nature of the group is cause for concern, giving a glimpse of the ease with which ISIS members might be able to move around and blend in across the globe. Fifty-eight cited the U.S. as a country they had visited.
“They were from all over the world and the individuals had traveled all over the world,” Dodwell said. “I wouldn’t say a majority of them, but a good number of them were heavily traveled. One individual said he had been to 38 countries around the world. So some of them certainly have international experience and significant experience moving throughout the region and throughout the world.”
There were several other interesting findings that came out of the documents. For instance, about a quarter had gone to college and 30% had families. Also, relatively few volunteered to be suicide bombers:
Each candidate was asked if he wanted to be a regular fighter or a suicide bomber or suicide fighter, but only 12 percent ticked the box for martyrdom.
That ratio stands in stark contrast to another set of foreign fighters, those who joined Al Qaeda in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, more than half of whom volunteered to blow themselves up, according to West Point. And analysts say the disparity reflects how ISIS marketed itself to the world and the kind of future it envisioned.
Brian Dodwell, deputy director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, tells NBC News ISIS pitch is “this narrative of victory and sustaining… Many of these individuals it would seem are buying into that message and are going into there to live — not die.”