Dubai: Regardless of the course the Syrian crisis might take, experts believe that foreign fighters will not leave peacefully or voluntarily, according to No’man Benotman, president of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think-tank based in London. He believes that the fighters will not just pick up and leave after the regime collapses, adding that they are likely to fight fiercely for their gains. However, Mohammad Abu Roman, a Jordanian expert in Islamic extremism, pointed out that men who fought in Afghanistan and Chechnya did indeed return to their countries. While some decided to build new lives, others were always on the lookout for new battlefields in what Benotman described as “an addiction to jihad”.
Al Qaida has taken advantage of the Arab Spring, as the instability in several Arab countries has provided it with “unprecedented opportunity to re-position itself” in the Middle East, including Syria, experts say. The group is at “its peak” at the present, the specialists in Islamic extremism added. Al Qaida is carrying out attacks in different parts of the world, building training camps, engaging in arms smuggling and easily recruiting people all over the world to fight in Syria.
“For the first time since its birth in August 1988, Al Qaida today has such a presence in terms of numbers, influence and arms in the Middle East,” said Benotman.
Still, there is no specific figure for foreign fighters in Syria, and experts believe the numbers available range between underestimation and exaggeration.
“Yet, according to the available indicators, they are estimated at a few thousand,” said Mohammad Abu Roman, a Jordanian expert in Islamic extremism.
Fighters from many countries, including Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, are heading to Syria to fight alongside other Al Qaida members, Benotman said.
“The Syrian crisis has re-opened the recruitment door in Europe, which has been a target for Al Qaida revenge attacks,” he added, noting that some European fighters are engaged in the Syrian crisis, including for the first time tens of fighters from France.
Experts draw dreadful scenarios as to what could happen in both cases: a rapid collapse of the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad or a slower ousting of it.