2016-02-02 | Col. (ret.) Dr. Jacques Neriah, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Profiling the Jihadist
Criminals, often recruited in prison by radical imams who manage to rally those individuals to their cause by promising them that if they continue their actions on behalf of Islam – and not just for their only personal enrichment – their actions will become lawful and consistent with the will of Allah.
The “exalted” and the “deranged” who dream of war and action, seeking to assert their manhood at all costs and who are in search of violence and epic adventure to express it. For these individuals, jihad offers a unique opportunity to indulge their inclinations and publicize them to satisfy their deranged ego.
Religion doesn’t have much to do with the jihadists’ actions. Most know nothing about Islam and mindlessly repeat some verses that have been hammered into them by radical imams, less stupid than them, but much more dangerous. Those who are outside these profiles are only a tiny minority – exceptions that confirm the rule. Jihadist university graduates, for instance, are often frustrated individuals who have failed to integrate into society through work, study, socialization, marriage, etc. There again, radical imams succeed to convince them that their failures are not of their making but that of the environment that dismisses them. They teach them the idea that it is legitimate that they restore the situation to their benefit and by acting with force.
In fact, all jihadists have a psychiatric pathology, characteristics of obsessive-compulsive, even depressive disorders, as well as an inability to be socialized. The study of their past reveals that they had left homes and families voluntarily, that many had been the witnesses of family crises, and that they were often unemployed. Some have even made use of drugs when they were not directly involved in its trafficking.
The Islamic State has an undeniable power of attraction over these individuals. Indeed, it controls a territory on which it can implement the life principles that guide its action. Thus, young men leaving to join the IS receive on the spot what they have lacked in their previous homeland: On the one hand, they receive a reason that spares them the need to reflect, to earn a salary, to court women, while on the other hand they are offered warlike activities that become an outlet for their frustrations.
For many, aspects of life – physical, sexual and sentimental – in the Islamic State are better than in their country of origin. This is particularly the case for Chechen fighters who flock to the IS because the conditions of combat in Iraq and Syria are less harsh than against the Russians. Many young jihadists in the Arab world believe the Islamic State offers them greater social justice. No doubt they hear of the permission to murder, torture, rape, and entering into forced marriage of non-Muslims, or even of Muslims when they are not quite as radical. And, of course, there is the extermination of the Shiites.
Why North Africans?
Out of the thousands who volunteered for jihad, about 5,000 fighters, originating from North African countries, have joined the ranks of IS and the Jabhat al-Nusra fundamentalist organizations active in Syria and Iraq. The biggest contingent is composed of Tunisians (3,000), followed by Moroccans (1,500) and Algerians (500-800) representing roughly 50 percent of the foreign fighters. These numbers exclude the European fighters of North African origin (mostly from France, 1,800, and Belgium, 400-600).
Ironically, most of North Africa’s jihadist groups were hesitant to associate themselves with the Islamic State until the United States commenced its military intervention in Iraq and Syria in August 2014. Jihadists such as Abdel Malek Droukdel from AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Mohammed Zahawi , from Libya’s Ansar al-Sharia, and Mokhtar Belmokhtar from al-Mourabitoun, who fought alongside Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, had refused, sometimes openly, to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State — even after it captured swathes of territory in Iraq in June 2014 and declared a caliphate. Recently, however, North Africa’s younger jihadist generation has become emboldened to break away from al Qaeda, seeking instead to join Baghdadi’s IS caliphate to benefit from its success and wealth. Rather than deterring these groups, the U.S.-led coalition’s sporadic airstrikes in Iraq and Syria seem to have afforded the Islamic State even more legitimacy in the eyes of North Africa’s jihadists.
Some of the Moroccan militants are filling senior positions in the Islamic State as are “emirs,” ministers (Justice, Finance, Interior), as well as a Military Emir (Military Chief) and even the head of a geographical region (the Turkman Mountain). However, 75 percent of the North Africans are “Inghimasiyyine,” an Islamic State terminology for an undercover operative responsible for protecting convoys and serving as the second wave of attack when an offensive mission or targeted attack is carried out.
During the first days of the civil war in Syria, the North Africans were organized in brigades, one of which was named “Sham al-Islam” and headed by a Moroccan, Ibrahim Benchekroun, alias Abu Ahmad EL-Maghrebi. Some even nicknamed the brigade as the “Liwa al Infransiyyoun” (the French Brigade) since the combatants communicated among themselves in French; some of its members were French nationals, mostly of North African origins, who were integrated into the North African French-speaking brigade. The ill-fated brigade that was active in the Latakia region of Syria was almost annihilated by the Syrian army loyal to Bashar Assad. The remaining members were scattered in different units created since then by the Islamic State.
Considered by the Islamic state as “Muhajirun” (immigrants), the North African fighters receive a monthly salary of $2,000-3,000 (compared to $500 paid to the local fighters). If married, the volunteer receives an additional $200 and $50 more for each of his children. A new born child will automatically generate a “bonus.”