UK citizens make up the largest proportion of foreign mercenaries in Syria, according to a new report published by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization. The ICSR stated that 17.9% of gunmen in Syria were from the UK, based on their database of fighters identified from their social media accounts.
The UK-based ICSR is a non-governmental think-tank whose mission is to analyze and promote the understanding of political violence and radicalization. The report indicated that Syrian militants from the West are using social media to interact with supporters and document their involvement in the conflict.
"Social media represents an essential source of information and inspiration to them. In their minds, social media is no longer virtual: it has become an essential facet of what happens on the ground," the report entitled 'Greenbirds: Measuring importance and influence in Syrian Foreign Fighter Networks' read.
The investigation said that they created a database of the social media profiles of 190 Western and European foreign gunmen. More than two thirds of these militants are affiliated with al-Nusra Front or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to the report.
"A large number of foreign fighters receive their information about the conflict not from the official channels provided by their fighting groups, but through 'disseminators' -- unaffiliated but broadly sympathetic individuals, who appear to sometimes offer moral and intellectual support to jihadist opposition groups," the report underlined.
It also goes on to say that individuals in the West, who are not directly fighting in the conflict, have a significant influence over how the conflict is perceived by those who are fighting in it.
The paper also referred to the "new spiritual leaders" who are radicalizing some individuals, acknowledging that there is no evidence to suggest these individuals are physically involved in facilitating the flow of foreign fighters to Syria or that they are coordinating their activity with "jihadist organizations," but it describes these leaders are "cheerleaders" by the way of their statements and interactions.
The researchers said that nearly 55 percent of those mercenaries in the social media sample population were identified as ISIL members, while just under 14 percent were thought to belong to al-Nusra Front. The so-called Free Syrian Army, Tawheed Brigade, and Free of Sham were least represented online, comprising just over two percent of the total sample combined.
"Unknowns," described as gunmen that could not safely be coded as belonging to any group, make up 29 percent. Although the lion's share of foreign gunmen in Syria are thought to be from the UK, numbers were as follows:
France 11.6 percent, Germany 11.1 percent, Sweden 10 percent, Belgium 8.9 percent, and the Netherlands 6.3 percent. Eastern European countries (including Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Serbia) comprised 9.6 percent of the sample, while non-European Westerners -- Australians, Canadians, and U.S. -- accounted for 5.3 percent.
Nearly 19 percent of the sample population was coded as of unknown origin. The UK Home Office have warned British citizens from going to fight in the conflict in Syria and said that those identified could have their nationality stripped, World Bulletin reported.