Syria has become a beacon for foreign fighters. Estimates in 2015 indicate that over 20,000 men and women have gone there to fight for various insurgent groups. This conflict is unique due to the unprecedented number of Westerners fighting. The central purpose of this study is to better understand recruitment and mobilization mechanisms as they pertain to fighters from Western nations. Why are these men and women leaving the relative safety of the West to enter a violent internecine conflict? What will happen if they decide to return home? To answer these questions, this thesis constructs 20 Western foreign fighter profiles from open source demographic, biographical, and motivational information, and then presents the findings. In particular, three variables—networks, anchoring, and group dynamics—are evaluated as critical drivers of recruitment and mobilization. The findings of this research show that traditional social networks, such as kinship, occupational, and religious groups, are most effective at recruiting and mobilizing prospective foreign fighters. Also, the data shows anchored individuals rarely mobilize. Furthermore, group dynamics appear critical to the mobilization of foreign fighters into Syria. Finally, the findings do not support social media efficacy in recruitment or mobilization.
Hafez, Mohammed M.
Security Studies (Middle East, South Asia, Sub-saharan Africa)
Naval Postgraduate School
Master of Arts in Security Studies (Middle East, South Asia, Sub-saharan Africa)
National Security Affairs
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