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Syria jihadist training ‘worst since Afghanistan in 1980s’

June 3rd, 2014
03:20 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

The volume for foreign fighters seeking to battle jihad in Syria is “more significant than every other instance of foreign fighter mobilization since the Afghanistan war in the 1980s,” the International Center for the Study of Radicalization claims.

“What’s happening right now in Syria is truly profound,” Peter Neumann, director of the center, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.

“The old al Qaeda, I believe, is no longer that relevant. In five years’ time we may well be talking about a different kind of organization, and one that like Afghanistan in the 1980s has been created in Syria.”

Western powers are scrambling to deal with the very real national security blowback that is emerging from the Syrian civil war, now in its fourth year.

The man in Belgium who stands accused of shooting three people last month at a Jewish Museum spent a year fighting in Syria, according to the chief prosecutor of Paris.

And last week the U.S. said a man who carried out a recent suicide bombing in Syria is believed to have been an American citizen, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha.

There is grave concern among governments that those who are not killed in battle – like, allegedly, the man in Belgium – will come back and wreak terror at home.

Historically, Neumann said, around one in nine foreign fighters will become involved in domestic terrorism.

“If that is anything to go by, clearly not everyone has been to Syria will become a terrorist, but a significant minority will pose a problem at some point down the line.”

The key to addressing the problem, he said, may lie in simply publicizing the experiences of those who do go to wage battle.

“We’ve created a database of three-hundred-fifty foreign fighters currently on the ground in Syria,” Neumann told Amanpour. “We talk to them via WhatsApp, via Skype, via social media.”

“In the beginning, they are quite gung ho about everything – everything is wonderful.”

“But once you break them down they are quite skeptical about things. They are telling us that the Syrian people do not like them very much. They are telling us that they hate the idea that all this infighting is going on between different groups – they came to Syria in order to fight Bashar Assad; what they end up doing is killing other Sunni rebels.”

“And so there are a lot of powerful messages. If governments paid more attention, these would be very powerful messages to deter people from going to Syria in the first place.”

Right now, he said, governments scrambling to deal with the problem are focusing only on punitive measures – i.e. if you go to Syria to fight and return, the government will come after you.

“There need to be other things. There needs to be messaging. People have to be deterred from going in the first place. And also there needs to be more sophisticated intervention.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • Syria
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Western Propaganda

    CNN is taking part in a war crime by ignoring the murder of civilians in Ukraine by an american puppet regime.

    June 3, 2014 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  2. Eddie Fonseca

    Amr Diab a famous Egyptian singer who grew up in a country that used to respect women's right's and was open minded to western victors and still produces song's which are enjoyed by the young Arab and Jewish population on Middle East radio stations and also some radio stations in America as well. When we think of terrorists most in our minds as American think of Osama Bin Laden, but the fact is terrorism was actually started by a women in Lebanon about thirty years ago when her family was killed, by the Lebanese army she wanted revenge that's when she strapped a bomb to her chest and killed innocent people in a hotel. That being said revenged should not have innocent blood either being Jewish, Arab or even American there should be more positive influences for young Arab's and other's who are drawn to these sick jihadist groups. Being a European American who has traveled to the Middle East and Israel I have spoken with young Arab and Jewish men and women who are fairly educated from a variety of colleges, they all come to the same thing they reject jihadist groups because it's violence towards innocent people which in their minds is not right as we sit and talk about the subject over a cup of coffee in a local café while watching a local soccer game. So as Americans we need to come to stand as a nation and understand that terrorism has changed in the last twenty years from a person throwing a bomb and killing hundreds of people, to recruitment twisted culture video's for our young children. Without understand about the true Arab culture jihadist videos could one day spread to the shores of America, and without positive influences from our community and government our children, could one day jihadist could possibly recruit our children to become terrorists and fight for their sick cause for years to come.

    June 3, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  3. ivo

    It is so sad to remind ,that 50 years ago the arab people were open to join the good sides of the Western civilization,that they lived much better and with a great hope about the future.
    Today...we see the sad realities.
    To me there is only one reason for this disaster and disgrace of our world...but i will not name it.
    I just want to say...They are the victims,they are the killed one,the robbed one,the betrayed at least ,they should be proud to be called terrorists...THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO FIND A WAY TO FIGHT AGAINST THESE ENORMOUS CRIMES,COMMITTED AGAINST THEM....AND KILLING CIVILIANS IS THE SPECIALITY OF USA,SO ...

    June 4, 2014 at 12:07 am | Reply
  4. Simon Reez

    Why is the WEST supporting the insurgents if they know that little by little Syria is becoming a haven for World Jihadism?

    June 6, 2014 at 2:47 am | Reply
  5. Dave Burn

    From the headline, I actually thought this was an article about the poor quaqlity of military skills exhibited by fighters in Syria. I assumed it would conclude with a message that the CIA was stepping up it's training efforts in Jordan. My grandfather fought for the Repubicans in the Spanish Civil War and while he was harassed on his return, it certainly wasnt seen as a criminal act nor was he branded a Communist agitator. So what's the difference? I would love to know where the 1 in 9 number quoted comes from. (P.S. their military skills are pretty dire- unemployed drill sargents take note).

    June 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Reply
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