Belgium’s Syria Fighters – An Overview (April 2014)

About a month before the elections in Belgium, the government released a new official number of Belgian fighters engaged in the Syrian civil war. This article was posted by most large Belgian newspapers (De Morgen, De Standaard and others based on La Libre Belgique). It clearly states that Belgian officials estimate the number of Belgian fighters in Syria around 150. It is quite obvious however that the Belgian government presents us the more merrier version.

As for my own research; my numbers are close to 400 (and according to insiders with close ties to the Moroccan community in Belgium, there are even more of them). In this post I will not identify any off these individuals, yet I will present a statistical overview of known facts. Important to know that all this is based on publicly available information on traditional and so called “new” social media channels as newspapers, magazines, and more importantly Twitter and Facebook. This research was in close cooperation with Guy Van Vlierden, a Belgian journalist for the newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws. Other people who contributed are Montasser AlDe’emeh, Shami Witness and Aaron Zelin.

It must be noted that the total number of 396 Belgians in Syria includes all reported cases. So, it might be possible that some are double. Furthermore all killed, wounded and returned are included in this grand total. As such 396 would be the upper limit as for the lower we opt to choose the number Montasser AlDe’emeh uses in his research, about 220.

Of this sample we fully identified 102 persons; this means we know them by name, age, town of origin, affiliation in Belgium and Syria. 32 further anonymous persons are known by their kunya or “nom de guerre”. At least 17 of the Belgians in Syria are women. The oldest fighter is Bassam al-Ayashi (68), the youngest one (left early 2014) is Younes Abaaoud (just 13). The average age of the Belgians is 24,5. At least 14 of them are minors.

Here are some numbers:

Table 1: Total number of Sharia4Belgium fighters and group affiliation in Syria:

Total

Identified

Sharia4Belgium

ISIS

Jabhat an-Nusra

396

102 (+ 32)

57

20

1

Table 2: Belgian fighters and group affiliation in Syria:

Total

ISIS

Jabhat an-Nusra

Suqur as-Sham

Other

396

37

8

10

2

For 136 of these individuals we know where they originated from:

  1. Brussels: 48
  2. Antwerp: 41
  3. Vilvoorde: 22
  4. Mechelen: 14
  5. Maaseik: 3
  6. Genk: 2
  7. Beringen: 1
  8. Deinze: 1
  9. Willebroek: 1
  10. Turnhout: 1
  11. Verviers: 1
  12. Liège: 1

Quite striking in these numbers is that most of the Belgians are coming from the bigger cities in Flanders; Antwerp, Mechelen and Vilvoorde and the capital Brussels. Only two known Walloon fighters in the entire population might mean that: or the problem of foreign fighters in Wallonia (Southern Belgium) is insignificant or that we miss some crucial data on this region (I actually go for the latter).

54 of the Belgian fighters have been located in Syria:

  1. Aleppo: 29 (17 ISIS fighters, 7 of them killed or returned, 10 probably in ar-Raqqa province in Eastern Syria now)
  2. ar-Raqqa: at least 12 (including the ten probably coming in from Aleppo)
  3. Idlib: 11
  4. Homs: 6
  5. Latakkia: 3 (including one fighter killed in August 2013)
  6. Damascus: 2
  7. Saraqib: 1 KIA (Abu al-Bara’ al-Baljiki)

At least 29 fighters returned home after a few weeks or months of presence in Syria:

Table 3: Returned from Syria (by affiliation):

Sharia4Belgium

ISIS

Jabhat an-Nusra

10

8

2

Table 4: Killed Belgian fighters:

At least 27 fighters are killed in action, 9 of them known members of Sharia4Belgium:

Total KIA

ISIS

Jabhat an-Nusra

Suqur as-Sham

Unknown (probably ISIS)

27

8

8

2

9

Conclusion:

I am not going to elaborate on this: 396 individuals, 56 killed or returned, leaves us with about 340 Belgians fighting in Syria. Even if we use the low estimate by Montasser there would be around 220 Belgians still active in Syria.

PS: As from this day I will give a monthly overview of Belgian fighters in Syria. Chances are that we start some Wiki-page on Belgian fighters including all known details. The idea is still under discussion however, possible contributors would include Montasser and Guy mentioned above.

8 comments on “Belgium’s Syria Fighters – An Overview (April 2014)

  1. […] to Van Ostaeyen’s research, this fighter is the 27th Belgian who has died in Syria. There may be some double countings, but […]

  2. […] Between 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from the small European nation, which has a population of 11 million. […]

  3. […] 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from the small European nation, which has a […]

  4. […] Between 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from the small European nation, which has a population of 11 million. […]

  5. […] Between 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from the small European nation, which has a population of 11 million. […]

  6. […] per-capita coming from Belgium, according to an analysis by Business Insider.Between 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from the small European nation, which has a […]

  7. […] most per-capita coming from Belgium, according to an analysis by Business Insider.Between 250 and 400 jihadists in the area are thought to have come from the small European nation, which has a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s