Over the past month, hundreds were killed in attacks attributed to ISIS and its inspired supporters in the United States, France, Germany, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. The latest attacks, including the Bastille Day truck massacre, remind that while the group is losing territory, it is not necessarily weakening as a threat.
To make real headway in the evolving fight against ISIS, analysts and practitioners must focus on the local politics that drive individuals to go fight for ISIS – starting with the ones that make it all the way to Syria and Iraq. I analyzed ISIS enlistment files and the personal information volunteered by foreign fighters to ISIS officials in over 3,500 leaked registration forms. Here’s what I found.
Of all the information contained in this study, one narrative stretches across nearly every province with a high rate of joiners as a proportion of its local population: recruits join ISIS in regions with varied histories of resisting the influence of state institutions. Qassim (Saudi Arabia), Derna (Libya), Xinjiang (China), North Governorate/Tripoli (Lebanon), Sidi Bouzeid and the Tunisian heartland – nearly all of the “high priority” provinces identified in this study – have long been frustrated by relationships with their respective federal governments.