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Report claims more British Muslims fight for IS than for armed forces
Figures suggest 800 jihadists against 600 in military service
As UK Muslims head to join the jihad in increasing numbers, local militia such as these are consolidating in their fight against IS. Picture: AFP Photo/Ali Al-Saadi
- Kim Hjelmgaard and John Bacon for USA Today
- United Kingdom
- August 25, 2014
It is likely that there are now more British Muslims fighting for the Islamic State than for Britain's military.
Britain's Ministry of Defense confirmed to USA TODAY that there are approximately 600 British Muslim servicemembers in its armed forces of almost 200,000 people. Official government estimates put the number of British Islamic State fighters operating in Syria and Iraq at up to 800. The Foreign Office cautioned Thursday that it is difficult to provide precise numbers.
The militant who beheaded American journalist James Foley in a horrifying video released this week spoke with a British accent. United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond acknowledged that the militant in the video could be a British national. And he knows the problem of British jihadists is not a new one.
"This is something we have been tracking and dealing with for many, many months and I don't think this video changes anything," he said. "It just heightens awareness of a situation which is very grave."
Khalid Mahmood, a member of Parliament from an area with a high proportion of Muslim residents, said government estimates of the number of British Islamic State fighters currently in the Mideast is far too conservative. He told Newsweek magazine this week that at least 1,500 extremists are likely to have been recruited to fight in Iraq and Syria over the last three years.
"There are an unacceptable number of Britons fighting for jihadist forces," he said.
Experts say the number of Americans fighting for the Islamic State is much lower. Joseph Young, a criminology professor at American University and expert on political violence, said simple geography and the complex cultural differences between the U.S. and Europe are primary reasons why.
Young, who said common estimates put the number of American fighters for IS at 100 to 150, said just getting to Syria or Iraq is extremely complicated from North America. However, the Islamic State's home region is practically next door for Europeans.
"We also do a better job of integrating our minority communities," Young said. "Isolation of minority groups is a much bigger problem in Europe."
Raffaello Pantucci, a researcher at Royal United Services Institute in London, said many young men facing poor job prospects in the U.K. find the IS narrative of defending Islam hard to resist. He agrees with Young -- Syria and Iraq are relatively accessible from England.
"These people can go look online and just decide to participate," he said. "With its proximity to Europe it's just so easy to do."
Ghaffar Hussain, of the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank in Britain, said the lure could be empowerment for many British Muslims with grievances over their treatment in a predominantly non-Muslim society.
"It makes them feel like they are part of something that is important to the world," he said. "If you feel like you don't really fit in or if Muslims are being attacked and a narrative comes along that explains all that away in a simple way, that is attractive."
Source: USA Today