The number of Europeans joining Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq has risen to more than 3,000, the European Union’s Anti-Terrorism Chief Gilles de Kerchove has told TV reporters. Even worse, De Kerchove warned that Western air strikes would increase the risk of retaliatory attacks in Europe.
US-led forces launched around 200 air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq since August and have now began targeting IS in Syria.
Mr de Kerchove said these 3,000 includes all those who have been there and the ones who have returned and have been killed there. The CIA has estimated that IS might have up to 31,000 fighters in Iraq and Syria, almost three times as many as earlier believed. Mr de Kerchove said that Islamic State’s declaration of a caliphate might have played a role in gaining more support from Europe.
“If you believe in this, probably you want to be part of it as early as possible,” he said.
“That was clear with the French because three days ago [IS] issued a statement saying there would be retaliation against the coalition. A French man was kidnapped in Algeria and he has been beheaded. So they did what they announced.”
Mr de Kerchove also warned that groups that were competing with IS, such as al-Qaeda, may also try to start attacks in Europe to maintain their profile.
“The rise of [IS] may prompt al-Qaeda to do something to show that it is still relevant,” he said.
The UN Security Council adopted a obligatory resolution convincing states to prevent their nationals from joining jihadists in Iraq and Syria.