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Saudi Foreign Fighters: Analysis of Leaked Islamic State Entry Documents

Saudi Foreign Fighters: Analysis of Leaked Islamic State Entry Documents
5th February 2019 ICSR Team
In Publications, Reports

The full report can be accessed here. Read on for the Executive Summary.

• In early 2016, a huge cache of entry documents containing a wealth of information on new recruits attempting to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria was leaked. The vast majority of the individuals named in these records joined the terrorist organisation in the years 2013 and 2014.

• One rarely gets the opportunity to view the internal documents of terrorist groups whose survival relies and depends on absolute secrecy. That is why such records are so valuable and important. This research paper presents an in-depth analysis of the leaked records of 759 Saudi Arabian foreign terrorist fighters contained in this cache, both citizens and residents, and presents key insights into the profile of the Saudi IS recruit.

By analysing IS’s own records and focusing on those pertaining to individuals hailing from a country that has always been targeted and regarded as the ultimate prize for terrorist groups and organisations (namely Saudi Arabia), this study represents an important step in increasing contextual knowledge. Such knowledge is vital when dealing with a phenomenon as intricate as terrorism and a process as complex as radicalisation.

Main Findings
• This early cohort of Saudi IS foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) was mostly young and represents a new generation of Saudi jihadists. However, for the most part, they were neither teenage adolescents, nor social loners and outcasts.

• While they do not come from a specific poor and discontented segment of Saudi society, al-Qassim province in central Saudi Arabia presented the highest ratio of Saudi IS foreign fighters per 100,000 residents by a significant margin.

• The vast majority, by self-admission, are not well-versed in religious knowledge. Even though this has been a consistent characteristic among the majority of recruits to terrorist groups in general, it is even more pronounced when it comes to IS.

• This group of Saudi FTF was not educationally underachieving; thus, it would be difficult to claim that they suffer from lack of opportunities or an absence of upward mobility. The greater political turmoil and instability and the heightened sectarianism in the region explains more about the radicalisation of Saudi IS foreign terrorist fighters than mere socioeconomic or pure religious ideology.

• IS attempts to exploit sectarian fault lines in societies and tailor its narrative and approach to the specific historical and social contexts of each country. It is therefore imperative to gain as much contextual knowledge as possible in order to be able to devise effective solutions to confront its menace.

This report was written by Abdullah bin Khaled Al-Saud.

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