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Fighters Not the Only Foreigners Seeking IS


The so-called Islamic State movement wants more than fighters.

It has issued a call for legions of followers to join its campaign of terror without ever picking up a gun. Some organizations and intelligence agencies are raising concerns about the men and women answering that call - people, who they say, make for unlikely terrorists.

“The time has passed when we associate terrorist groups with the person who has a mask and with a gun,” according to Keneshbek Sainazarov, Kyrgyzstan Country Director for Search for Common Ground.

During a recent visit to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials and other non-governmental organizations, Sainazarov warned that no one is better at attracting non-fighters than the Islamic State.

“The whole world has a lot to learn from the ISIS, even though it’s an evil group,” he told VOA. “The tactics, the approaches and how they appeal to vulnerable groups is just - maybe it’s a wrong word - amazing.”

Sainazarov added, “The person who is lost in this life is given the opportunity to do what he wants, what he is really good at.”

U.S. intelligence officials estimate the Islamic State has anywhere from 20,000 to 31,500 fighters, and that more than half of all fighters heading to Iraq and Syria are looking to join IS. What has been harder to come by is the number of people joining IS ranks in other capacities.

"ISIL has made a number of public calls for people with expertise in a variety of fields necessary to govern, including educators, judges, technocrats, medical, and engineering professionals,” a U.S. official told VOA.

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing late last year, State Department Senior Adviser for Partner Engagement on Syria Foreign Fighters, Robert Bradtke, said it was clear IS supporters were responding and “are being put to use in those areas.”

But what worries NGO’s like Search for Common Ground most is how effective IS has been in finding and recruiting people to fill its needs.

Search for Common Ground’s Sainazarov said he has seen it in Kyrgyzstan with people who were otherwise on professional tracks.

In one case, Sainazarov said, IS targeted “a young guy who's been observed by the recruiters for a long time.” The young man had gone to university for a degree in IT and then was unable to find work in his hometown.

“Once he makes the commitment to join, within two hours of time he gets a ticket to fly overseas,” Sainazarov said.

“All of a sudden he’s an IT specialist. He is promoted, and he is given an opportunity to redeploy in other regions,” he said. “He’s given all sorts of things that he was really looking forward to.”

Sainazarov said women seeking careers in fields like medicine have also become prime targets for IS recruiters, as they must stay in school longer and often remain unmarried past the age of 25, an age at which marriage is expected in Kyrgyz society.

“They are marginalized in their family, by their family members. They are marginalized in their society. They are marginalized by their peers," he said.

Sainazarov said women like this were welcomed by IS. “The woman is given the opportunity to escape from her own society and join in this society where she won’t be demonized.”

U.S. intelligence officials point out the reality that awaits IS recruits is often different than the one recruits expect. Once they are in IS-controlled territory, though, they are often stuck.

“In areas ISIL controls, they have essentially forced the people whose jobs they judge Sharia-approved to work for them in what they call their caliphate," the U.S. official said.

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