More than 12,000 foreigners from 74 countries have gone to fight with rebels in Syria, 60% to 70% from other Middle Eastern countries and about 20% to 25% from Western nations, a leading expert on terrorism warned yesterday. Prof. Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King's College London, says the Syrian conflict has sparked the most significant mobilization of foreign fighters since the 1980s war in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation, where up to 20,000 foreigners participated over the course of a decade. Al-Qaeda and other jihadist networks came out of the Afghan war, and with the Syrian conflict now forging new networks, Neumann says he believes that "out of that foreign fighter mobilization, over the course of the next generation there will be terrorist attacks."
Neumann—who did not give a breakdown on how many foreigners were fighting for ISIS, or for the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front or other armed groups like the Free Syrian Army—says Tunisia has sent the largest number of foreign fighters to Syria, up to 3,000. Saudi Arabia's government has given two estimates—1,200 and 2,500 Saudi fighters—while Morocco and Jordan each have about 1,500. Among Western countries, there are about 700 foreign fighters from France, more than 500 from Britain, 400 from Germany, 300 from Belgium, and 100 from the United States, Neumann says. "If you take into account per capita population, the most heavily affected countries are [Belgium], the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Sweden, Norway—which are small countries but have produced 50 to 100 fighters each," he adds.