When a Syrian Town Has So Many Foreign Fighters That English and German Are Common Languages
This Post was originally written for Global Voices
Manbij is one of the largest cities in the Aleppo province. Located in the north of the Aleppo countryside in northern Syria, the territory has been under ISIS (Daesh in Arabic) control since March 2014. Manbij is populated by so many foreign fighters that English and German are now commonly spoken languages in the small town.
In Nov 2014, Goha’s Nail revealed on his blog a real experience on how do locals fit into IS’ governance scheme:
IS seems reluctant to integrate potentially less committed members too closely. While some IS administrators are Syrians, many are foreigners. For their part, Manbijis are keen on keeping the group at arms length; they appreciate some aspects of IS governance, but do not want to get too close. They expect, however, that the IS focus on education and indoctrination of children is part of a long-term strategy to more closely link the group with the populations it governs.
— Jenna Abrams (@Jenn_Abrams) January 11, 2016
The estimated number of foreigners fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq was about 12,000 in June 2014. However, according to a December 2015 report by the Soufan Group (an international strategic consultancy firm), the figure has nearly tripled and is now roughly 31,000, consisting of both Arab nationals, like Tunisians and Saudis, and as many as 5,000 recruits from from EU nations. France alone is said to have contributed 1,800 fighters, and the UK supplied another 760.
— eTajikistan (@eTajikistan) January 13, 2016
People have reached ISIS-controlled territory from at least 86 countries—with a near 300-percent increase in new recruits from Russia and Central Asia. The Soufan Group says that roughly 150 and 130 people came from the US and Canada, respectively, which amounts to almost no change when compared against past trends, despite ISIS launching a more active recruitment campaign in North America that heavily leverages social media. The Soufan Group says Western nations still face the threat of trained fighters returning home.
The big concern is that an estimated 20 percent or 30 percent of these fighters are returning to their Western countries of origin, meaning these countries will all be coping with significant influxes of now-seasoned fighters with international contacts.
In a blog post, British Mujāhidīn in Syria (
I have no idea whatever caused the rush on British foreign fighters in Syria, but suddenly the hunt for the “bearded European” has been re-opened. It all started with a video by Vice, featuring an interview with two Brits who currently fight in Syria. The interview as such, is highly interesting as these guys explain what made them leave their home towns in the UK for Jihād in war-torn Syria.
After almost 2 years of ISIS control, Manbijs were not happier under Islamic control and went on protest according to Syria Post Facebook page who post the video below with a comment: “See the heroes of Manbij, who despite the top security in the city, took the streets asking the extremist group to leave the city.”
Indeed, citizens living under ISIS control are suffering greatly, thanks in no small part to airstrikes by the US-led international coalition, which are forcing people to flee the area for their lives. Al-Souria Net reported on its Facebook page in Arabic on Oct 2015.
Due also to large-scale security measures by the government, access to aid has narrowed, leading to mass begging on the streets (especially by women, children, and displaced persons).
[…] في مدينة منبج عائلات ظهر الفقر عليها وبدأت ظاهرة التسول بالانتشار وذلك للحصول على ما يسد رمق العائلة في المنزل وخصوصاً تلك العائلات التي نزحت من الرقة ودير الزور.
[…] in the city of Manbej, poor families are beginning to appear who start begging in order to get something to feed their relatives at home—families who were displaced from Al Raqqa and Deir al-Zour, in particular. […]
And noted that the promised prosperity of Islamic state is just a lie:
[…] “كل الازدهار الذي نسمع عنه لدولة البغدادي هو وهم بوهم، ويتم توزيع هذه الخيرات على عناصره فقط وبخاصة المهاجرين منهم”.
“All we were hearing about the prosperity of the State of al-Baghdadi is an illusion, and any goods are distributed only to their own members—particularly the immigrants.”
وينقل الناشط أحمد عن أحد سكان مدينة منبج، ويدعى أبو جاسم، قوله: “بأنه ونتيجة للضرائب التي تفرضها القوة الأمنية على المواطنين في مناطق منبج والباب وجرابلس إضافة للتضيق الكبير على الناس في هذه المدن فإن كل شيء يجب أن تعمله يتوجب وجود موافقة أمنية وكأننا في دولة الأسد”.
According to an activist named Ahmed, speaking on behalf of Abu Jassim (a Manbij local): “As a result of the taxes imposed by the security forces on citizens in the areas Manbij and Bab and Jarables, any official document you need requires a security approval as if we are in State of Assad.”