Which Countries Have the Most ISIS Fighters?

The ISIS executioner known to the world as Jihadi John has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi. Born in Kuwait, but raised in London, Emwazi is one of thousands of foreigners who has travelled to Syria and Iraq to train and fight with ISIS. It's unknown exactly how many foreign fighters have joined ISIS, but each country's government and intelligence agencies have estimated how many of their citizens are fighting in Syria and Iraq or have in the past.

Emwazi is reportedly from a "well-to-do family" from West London and graduated from the University of Westminster with a degree in computer programming. It's believed the 27-year-old entered Syria in 2012, but it's unclear exactly when or how. The world came to know Emwazi in 2014 through the video of the execution of the American photojournalist James Foley, in which Emwazi speaks to the camera in a British accent. He continued to make videos threatening the U.S. and documenting the murders of other hostages, including four other westerners.

The identification of Emwazi brings up the question: how many foreign fighters are in Syria and Iraq? The Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) says that most ISIS foreign fighters come from the Arab world, but estimate that 2,500 are from western countries. In a recent article, the CFR argues that western volunteers are not likely to return to terrorize their home countries and says:

In fact, the vast majority of Western Muslims who set out to fight in the Middle East today will not come back as terrorists. Many of them will never go home at all, instead dying in combat or joining new military campaigns elsewhere, or they will return disillusioned and not interested in bringing the violence with them.

Let's break down foreign ISIS fighters by the numbers.

Saudi Arabia: 2,500


Saudi Arabia is believed to have about 2,500 citizens fighting with ISIS, more than any other Middle Eastern country outside of Syria and Iraq.

Tunisia: 1,500-3,000


Tunisia has more foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq than any other African country. It's estimated that there are between 1,500 and 3,000 Tunisian fighters.

France: 1,200


France has about 1,200 citizens fighting with ISIS, more than any other European country. The French government confirmed in January that at least 10 French soldiers have joined the jihadist fighters.

Britain: 600

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The British government believes as many as 600 of its citizens have gone to Syria and Iraq, although there could be as many as 200 more.

America: 100+


More than 100 U.S. citizens are believed to be fighting in Syria and Iraq, slightly more than Canada, who is estimated to have less than 100.

Russia: 9-423


The estimate for the number of Russian ISIS fighters is the most inconclusive. Not including Chechnya, Russia is estimated to have between nine and 423 jihadist fighters. With Chechnya, it has between 800 and 1,500.

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