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Fed up in Baghdad: Iraqis chanted anti-terrorism slogans to protest the ISIL blockade of Amirli, a town in northern Iraq. The demonstration was held at Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Thursday.

Hadi Mizban •Associated Press,

Terrorists lure Americans to Syria

  • Article by: MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT and ERIC SCHMITT
  • New York Times
  • August 28, 2014 - 10:00 PM

– U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have identified nearly a dozen Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight for ISIL, the militant group that the Obama administration says poses the greatest threat to the United States since Al-Qaida before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham has seized large expanses of territory in recent months, it has drawn more foreign men to Syria, requiring more U.S. and European law enforcement resources in the attempt to stop the flow of fighters, senior U.S. officials said. And as a result of the increasing numbers of men, ISIL is recruiting foreign women as jihadi wives.

ISIL has become more attractive to would-be militants because, unlike Al-Qaida, it has seized territory that it rules by strict Islamic law. “ISIS is able to hold itself up as the true jihad,” a senior U.S. official said, using another acronym for the group. “They’re saying: ‘Look at what we are doing, what we’re accomplishing. We’re the new face. We’re not just talking about it. We’re doing it.’ ”

ISIL’s attraction to some is based on its reputation for brutality. On Thursday, that reputation grew worse when it was revealed that it had waterboarded four hostages early in their captivity — including American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded this month.

Overall, U.S. intelligence officials said the number of Americans who had joined rebel groups in Syria — not just ISIL — had nearly doubled since January. The officials now believe that more than 100 Americans have fought alongside groups there since the civil war began three years ago.

500 British citizens

Far more Europeans have joined the fight against President Bashar Assad — more than 1,000, according to many estimates. The British government has identified about 500 of its citizens who have gone to Syria, according to a senior British official. About half have returned to Britain, and a small number have died on the battlefield, the official said.

Senior U.S. officials acknowledge that as the conflict in Syria and Iraq drags on, it is becoming more difficult to track Americans who have traveled there. In many instances, U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies are learning that Americans are there only long after they have arrived. In the latest example of how difficult it is to track its U.S. citizens, the FBI on Thursday was attempting to verify reports that two more Americans had been killed fighting for ISIL in Syria.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, at least four Americans have died fighting for rebel groups.

Another challenge that the intelligence and law enforcement authorities say they face is that unlike the situation in previous conflicts, the Americans who have traveled to Syria to fight have little in common. The conflict has attracted both men and women, including some who were raised as Muslims and others who converted from Christianity, and they have come from different parts of the United States.

One trend the authorities have detected in recent months is that the American recruits have grown younger. They are now mostly in their late teens or early 20s, the officials said.

The territorial gains by ISIL, and its attempt to govern towns and cities in eastern Syria and western Iraq, have forced it to recruit foreigners not just for the battlefield. The group has tried to lure doctors, oil field workers and engineers to live in, and run, the caliphate it claims to have established.

© 2014 Star Tribune