Syrian War and the War on Terror

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The violence that ensued from Syria's botched 2011 revolution against the Ba'athist government of Bashar al-Assad has had international ramifications on security, particularly in the major 2014 spillover into Iraq. The rise of militant Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda'sal-Nusra Front, the Korasan Group , and particularly ISIL has become a national security concern for many countries, as these groups have taken over large swaths Middle-Eastern territories and devoted campaigns to globalize their dark ambitions.

Syrian uprising and the role of militias

Syrian political and civil authority deteriorated severely in the early 2010s, with rebel and jihadist groups taking advantage of unstable and often chaotic environments to control large sections of Syrian territory and propagate themselves. Early resistance against the government in 2011 consisted mostly of large protests against al-Assad's government and the 1963 state of emergency that enabled it to curtain civil rights. Despite lifting the emergency stay on the 21 April 2011, the government continued to crackdown on protesters by asserting military authority in quieter areas while opening fire on demonstrates in others.[1] The brutality against the demonstrators fueled anti-government sentiments, and by the summer of 2011 groups such as the Free Syrian Army had formed in response.

Influx of Jihadist Militias

While the Syrian government attacked civilians, Islamist militias had taken advantage of the chaos to take control of large swaths of territory. Al-Qaeda in Iraq had become ISIL under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and one of his operatives, Abu Mohammad al-Juliani, had established cells in Syria for what would become Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Juliani's group went rogue after a failed merger with ISIL in 2013.[2] Both of these organizations have been followed by smaller Islamist groups, but the two, particularly ISIL, have had by far the largest impact.

Fanaticism and Recruitment

Fringe groups of Islamic fundamentalists operating internationally have taken note of the extremism phenomenon and have utilized social media forums to propagate radical and sometimes very violent materials online.[3] Such materials are geared towards recruiting vulnerable youth [4][5][6] and other disaffected members of society. Online efforts by such groups can range from grooming of young potential recruits [7] to gruesome executions meant to demoralize. On the topic of ISIL's unique efficiency at recruitment, FBI director James Comey has been quoted during a statement before the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence as saying: "...ISIL has persistently used the internet to communicate. From a homeland security perspective, it is ISIL's widespread reach through the internet and social media that is most concerning as ISIL has aggressively employed the use of this technology for its nefarious strategy. ISIL blends traditional media platforms, glossy photos, in-depth articles, and social media campaigns that can go viral in a matter of seconds." [8] ISIL has had superior recruitment capabilities over its antagonist militias in the conflict, with its influence existing in a well-resourced global sphere.

Thousands of recruits from Europe,[9] North America,[10][11] Africa,[12] Asia, and Australia have been discovered to be involved in jihadist violence in the Middle-East, mostly to ISIL. Law enforcement efforts are most urgently focused on veteran militant returnees and domestic terrorists heading calls to attack the host nations.

The growth of such groups exists in a positive feedback loop: unfettered extremist networks reach out to disenfranchised Muslims by persuading them to fight for a perceived common cause, which invoked a violent security response that can then be portrayed as an offensive against the Islamic community by said networks. Examples of extremist organizations that have pushed such narratives include groups such as Sharia4Belgium,[13] Muslims Against Crusades,[14][15] and Tauhid Germany.[16]


Al-Qaeda has maintained a solid presence in the conflict since January 2012,[17] and continues to manifest as Jabhat al-Nusra AKA al-Nusra Front. As it has ideological differences from ISIL (namely its degree of tameness in comparison) and has been competing for the same territory. Due to ideological differences, al-Nusra has run afoul with ISIL and become one of many other regional adversaries for the group.

Fighters associate with Al-Qaeda have always been heavily scrutinized in the War on Terror, but the danger that returning Al-Qaeda fighters posed was further highlighted by the Charlie Hebdo shooting.[18]


Beginning as Al-Qaeda in Iraq

After al-Baghdadi failed to assimilate al-Nusra into Isalmic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in 2013, ISIS became an entity of its own. Independent of Al-Qaeda, it quickly became more notorious for its rapid spread and well-documented brutality.[19] The group, whose name variations include ISIS, ISIL, Daesh (a regional title),[20] and Islamic State, had technically existed since 2002 as Al-Qaeda in Iraq. AQI grew considerably from July 2012 to July 2013 as a result of the campaign by its then-"emir" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to attack Shiite civilians and break potential fighters out of Iraq's prisons. The campaign, dubbed "Breaking the Walls" by al-Baghdadi, resulted in the release of around 500 prisoners from Iraq's prisons.[21] ISIL has had no active allies since the al-Nusra debacle in April 2013, but as a result of militant campaigns and territory conquests it does have a large pool of resources.


  1. "Arab Spring: A Research & Study Guide: Syria". Cornell University. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  2. "Jabhat al-Nusra". Stanford University. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  3. Wright, Marie (2008). "Technology and Terrorism: How the Internet Facilitates Radicalization". American College of Forensic Examiners. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  4. Wright, Marie (2008). "Technology and Terrorism: How the Internet Facilitates Radicalization". American College of Forensic Examiners. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  5. Ross, Philip (2 October 2014). "ISIS Recruiters In US: Jihadists Target Minneapolis Youth For 'Indoctrination'". Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  6. Sydow, Christoph (1 November 2012). "German Jihadists Target Youth on the Internet". Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  7. Erelle, Anna (26 May 2015). "Skyping with the enemy: I went undercover as a jihadi girlfriend". Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  8. "Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and the Challenges of Going Dark". 8 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  9. "European Jihadists: The Continuation of a Historical Trend". Stratfor Global Intelligence. 19 August 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  10. Anzalone, Christopher (30 April 2015). "Canadian Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria". Combatting Terrorism Center at West point. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  11. Kohlmann, Evan; Alkhouri, Laith (29 September 2014). "Profiles of Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq". Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  12. Kirkpatrick, David (21 October 2014). "New Freedoms in Tunisia Drive Support For ISIS". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  13. "Sharia4Belgium trial: Belgian court jails members". BBC. 11 February 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  14. "UK trio jailed for preparing acts of terrorism". BBC. 25 April 2013. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  15. "Theresa May bans Muslims Against Crusades group". Channel 4. 10 November 2011. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  16. Martin, Michelle (26 March 2015). "Germany bans Islamist militant group Tauhid Germany". Reuters. Retrieved 25 July 2015. 
  17. "Jabhat al-Nusra". Stanford University. 24 November 2014. Retrieved 2 May 2015. 
  18. Reals, Tucker (14 January 2015). "Al-Qaeda officially lays claim to Paris carnage". CBS News. Retrieved 5 May 2015. 
  19. Byman, Daniel (29 April 2015). "Comparing Al Qaeda and ISIS: Different goals, different targets". Center for Middle East Policy at the Brooking Institution. Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  20. Khan, Zeba (9 October 2014). "Words matter in 'ISIS' war, so use 'Daesh'". Retrieved 26 July 2015. 
  21. Lewis, Jessica (2013). "Al-Qaeda in Iraq resurgence". Retrieved 6 May 2015.