American intelligence officials are attempting to identify dozens — and possibly hundreds — of Americans who have secretly traveled to Syria and are fighting alongside radical extremist groups, The New York Times
The officials fear that the number of Americans who have joined the Islamic State, also called ISIS, and other jihadist organizations in the region have almost doubled since January.
It is believed that at least 100 Americans have battled side by side with militants since the civil war in Syria started in 2011, according to the Times. About 12 have been identified by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
The agencies have been able to name the Americans who are fighting with ISIS based on intelligence material obtained from travel records, family members, electronic communications, social media postings and surveillance of Americans overseas who had talked about traveling to Syria, the officials told the Times.
U.S. intelligence authorities, as well as security agencies in Britain and the rest of Europe are devoting more time and resources to unmasking foreign ISIS fighters before they return to their homelands.
But due to the length of the drawn-out conflict in Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials told the newspaper it’s becoming increasingly difficult to track Americans in the region, and intelligence agencies often only discover that Americans have joined ISIS well after their arrival in the strife-torn countries.
After taking over vast territories in Iraq and Syria and enforcing strict Islamic law, the terror group has become increasingly attractive to disenchanted young men back in their homelands in preference to al-Qaida, which focuses on carrying out worldwide terror attacks.
And with foreign male jihadist arriving in droves, ISIS is now busy recruiting women from abroad as well to serve as jihadist wives, the Times said.
Officials believe that American and European men in their late teens and early 20s are drawn to ISIS because of its reputation or brutality and torture, such as the beheading of American journalist James Foley, who is believed to have been killed by a British former rapper.
It was claimed this week that ISIS fighters had executed dozens of Syrian soldiers and had also used torture techniques
such as waterboarding on four foreign hostages in their captivity, including Foley.
Another report earlier this week
said there were at least 300 Americans who may be fighting with ISIS, and that Washington is concerned that radicalized fighters could return to the U.S. and put their newly acquired skills to use for domestic attack.
At least four Americans have died in the three-way battle for control of Syria between President Bashar Assad’s loyalists, moderate rebel forces with the Free Syrian Army and Islamic militants fighting with ISIS and other radical groups.
Douglas McAuthur McCain, a 33-year-old An American convert to Islam, originally of San Diego, was reportedly killed by the moderates over the weekend in a firefight with the terror group. The State Department has been unable to confirm his death or reports of another American with ISIS being killed by the same rebel forces.
Earlier this week, Middle East expert Walid Phares
told Fox News that ISIS and al-Qaida are staging a de facto public relations war to attract new recruits around the world.
"There is a competition between al-Qaida and ISIS," Phares said. "On the ground, ISIS is winning in Syria and Iraq. But still, al-Qaida has cells around the world, including in the United States."
More than 1,000 Europeans, including 500 British citizens, have joined the battle against Assad’s forces in Syria, a U.S. intelligence official told the Times. Half of them have returned to Britain, while a few have been killed in combat.
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