News / Middle East

Are Americans Fighting in Syria a Future US Security Threat?

Eric Omar Harroun
Eric Omar Harroun
Cecily Hilleary
The recent arrest of a young American who was on his way to Syria to allegedly join Jihadist fighters seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad may add to worries among U.S. law enforcement circles. Basit Javed Sheikh, a 29-year-old Pakistani immigrant living in North Carolina, was arrested as he attempted to board the first in a series of planned flights to Syria. He had told an FBI informant on Facebook that he was going to join the al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front in Syria.
 
In a recent background briefing for reporters, U.S. intelligence officials said dozens of Americans have joined the thousands of other foreigners who have flocked to Syria to fight against al-Assad’s forces. Intelligence officials say that more Americans will likely follow as the conflict continues and they worry that these ‘American jihadists' could pose a grave threat once they return to the U.S.  Who are these American fighters?  Should the U.S. be concerned—or are these fears overstated?

Matthew AidMatthew Aid
x
Matthew Aid
Matthew Aid
Matthew Aid is the author of Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror and a leading intelligence historian. He says most young Americans who go to fight in Syria are young Muslims who have been radicalized—either by outside groups or on their own. 

These include Nicole Lynn Mansfield, 33, a Muslim convert who was killed in May 2013 in a battle with regime forces in Idlib Province, and Eric Omar Harroun, a U.S. Army veteran who was charged with providing support to a terrorist group, after he was accused of fighting alongside the Al-Nusra Front. Harroun was recently released from jail after accepting a plea deal to a lesser charge. 
They may give foreign recruits inferior weapons and place them in the front lines—or send them out on suicide missions.

 
Radicalization and recruitment
 
American journalist and self-styled “freedom fighter” Matthew VanDyke fought against the Gaddafi regime in Libya and later went to Syria, where he produced a documentary, “Not Anymore: A Story of Revolution.” He says most American jihadists have romanticized notions of the conflict, based on what they find online. 
 
Jihadist groups close to Al-Qaeda, for example, post videos of suicide attacks or photos of the dead posed as if smiling, in a bid to attract youth to Syria or solicit cash donations.
 
“This stuff has some appeal to people who want to believe in something,” VanDyke said. “A guy who perhaps is working at his father’s convenience store all day selling cigarettes looks at these glorifications of war and wants to run off and attain glory—or reach paradise.”
 
He says he regularly receives emails from people wanting advice on how to go fight in Syria. He says he tells them not to go. They have no idea what they are getting into, he says.
 
Cannon fodder
 
Jihadist groups regularly post onto Twitter photos of the dead posed as if smiling in an effort to glorify martyrdom.Jihadist groups regularly post onto Twitter photos of the dead posed as if smiling in an effort to glorify martyrdom.
x
Jihadist groups regularly post onto Twitter photos of the dead posed as if smiling in an effort to glorify martyrdom.
Jihadist groups regularly post onto Twitter photos of the dead posed as if smiling in an effort to glorify martyrdom.
Matthew Aid recently interviewed a group of German Muslims who went to Syria and were lucky enough to make it back home—but not before serving time in Turkish jails.  He says most of them are just “kids.”
 
“Many get killed through sheer ineptitude, and I say that with more than a little sorrow, because they had no training,” said Aid. “A good cry of ‘Allahu Akhbar!’ is all nice and fine, but it won’t save you on the battlefield.”
 
Aid says the local rebel groups often don’t trust foreign volunteers, suspecting they are spies. Fighters coming from Europe or North America have little or no military training. Nor do they speak Arabic. In the end, says Aid, these fighters are a liability.
 
“So basically the jihadists take all these western Europeans and put them in a separate unit, where they wouldn’t endanger the guys who actually have combat experience and know what they are doing,” Aid said. They may give foreign recruits inferior weapons and place them in the front lines—or send them out on suicide missions.
 
Returning jihadists: A threat?
 
Former FBI Director Robert Mueller warned the public last August that Syria could end up a breeding ground for “radical extremists who want to do harm” to the U.S.
 
But VanDyke says he believes those fears are overblown. 
 
“The vast majority of these guys who go over are either going to never come back—cause they’ll be killed, most of them—and the ones who do come back do so right away, because they can’t handle what they see,” VanDyke said.
 
For his part, VanDyke says he came back to the U.S. with a greater appreciation for the freedoms and liberties he finds here. He believes the possibility that these fighters will do the same is much higher than the possibility that they will come back and want to “blow things up.”

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Johnny.Tarzan from: Canada
December 24, 2013 3:38 PM
Those who leave for Syria are Muslims and should be
stopped and jailed at the US borders or airports.
Those who are lucky to make and come back should be
jailed too once they land in the USA.
Wake up America, you are sleeping with the enemy.


by: susila marchmain from: usa
November 26, 2013 1:13 PM
the Muslims (Americans - by asylum) in Syria are as big a threat to our national security as the Nation of Islam which is right in among us... both are equally very dangerous to our home land security.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid