Foreign ISIS fighters likely to be well educated but unemployed

A study by the World Bank of 4,000 leaked ISIS membership documents shows ISIS fighters are likely to be better educated and better off than their compatriots, but unable to find work.

Documents leaked by a defected ISIS fighter show foreign recruits are likely to be better educated than their fellow countrymen and women, but unemployed prior to joining the group.

A World Bank study of the data calls on policymakers to make job-creation a part of counter-terrorism policy and to address unemployment amongst the educated.

Using the data, the World Bank report shows more than a quarter of foreign recruits have university level education. Only 15% of the 3,803 case studies had not completed secondary education and only two percent were illiterate.

Most of the case studies (approximately 10% of ISIS’s total fighters) come from countries with high unemployment rates.

Leaked by a member who defected in March this year, the information is from between late 2013 and late 2014.

Whilst some are using the study to conclude poor education is not a major influencer for ISIS recruitment, the data comes from questionnaires self filled by members and seemingly unverified, making it possible responses have been exaggerated, even fabricated, with the aim of improving social standing in a competitive environment.

However, the educational data does correspond with profiles of the perpetrators of the recent ISIS attack in Dhaka -educated at elite Bangladeshi schools and from wealthy families.

Leaked ISIL membership documents.
Leaked ISIS membership documents.

Nationality, education, age and former occupations were all required on the forms issued by the group.

Members were also asked which roles they wished to be considered for in ISIS’s self-described “caliphate” across Syria and Iraq. The average age of a fighter is 27, with the youngest on average coming from Libya (23) and the oldest from Indonesia (33).

Derna in Libya, where poverty is rife, is where interest in ISIL is strongest. But Quassim in Saudi Arabia – a relatively wealthy area with high levels of education – has also provided recruits.

This is not the first time ISIS membership documents have been leaked. In March pro-opposition Syrian news website Zaman Al Wasl published surveys filled by 22,000 members (around half the total) from 51 countries in late 2013. They allegedly contained names of 16 British fighters. According to Zaman Al Wasl, a quarter of the members were Saudis, the rest mostly Egyptian, Tunisian and Moroccan. Most European members were from France and Germany. Only 4 were from the US.

In April, after studying over 4,000 of the documents, the US military’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) – an academic institution at the United States Military Academy- found most recruits had a low level understanding of Islam.

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