Belfast Telegraph

Ireland is 'biggest' contributor of fighters in Syria conflict

Free Syrian Army fighters patrol in Idlib province (AP)
Free Syrian Army fighters patrol in Idlib province (AP)
The number of civilians killed in March included 298 children, activists said (AP/Aleppo Media Centre)
The UN's peace envoy to Syria has warned there is 'no end in sight' to the civil war (AP)

By Cormac McQuinn

More fighters are likely to have travelled from Ireland to join the rebels in the Syrian civil war per capita than any other European country.

Newly published research by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), has found that as many as 26 people from Ireland are known to have taken part in the conflict since it broke out in 2011.

The lead researcher in the project, Prof Peter Neumann of King's College London, said: "What we found is that per capita, Ireland is probably the biggest (contributor of fighters) of all the countries we looked at because Ireland has a small population."

The ICSR report found that as many as 590 Europeans from 14 countries have travelled to Syria to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

As many as 134 fighters have travelled from Britain, up to 40 from Germany and 92 from France.

There has already been two known deaths of fighters from Ireland

Hudhaifa Elsayed (22), originally from Egypt, but living for much of his life in Drogheda, Co Louth, died last December in a gunfight with regime forces in the north-western province Idleb province.

A secondary school student from Navan, 16-year-old Shamseddin Gaidan, died in February.

According to Prof Neumann, many of the fighters from Ireland are of Libyan descent.

 "You have to look at these people very closely and see what kind of ideology and agenda they have," he said.

"In the case of Ireland it seems like a lot of the people, possibly all of the people who have gone to Syria, are part of a Libyan group which is called Liwa al-Ummah.

"They are of Libyan descent, they participated in the overthrown of Gaddafi and they returned to Ireland.

"They are also fighting to bring down Assad. They do have a religious motivation, but they do not have an ideology of al-Qa'ida that says today we fight in Syria, tomorrow we attack America."

Prof Neumann said that European governments should be "concerned" that people from their countries have travelled to fight in Syria and said "they should monitor the situation".

But he added: "They shouldn't assume that everyone who comes back is an al-Qa'ida terrorist."

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