At least 23 South Africans join ISIL

MAY 30, 2015

Arabic news channel, Al Jazeera,  has revealed that at least 23 South African citizens have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL), raising concerns of recruitment activity among the country’s sizeable Muslim community.

The channel claims that various sources have confirmed with it that at least 23 people, including families with children, have left South Africa to join ISIL over the past year alone and that at least eight families are believed to be among the recruits.

An anonymous official in the Turkish foreign ministry told the channel that around a dozen South Africans were detained and subsequently deported back to South Africa for attempting to reach ISIL territory last month.

Jasmine Opperman, a Cape Town based analyst with TRAC, a terrorism research and consultant consortium, told Al Jazeera that there are three categories of South Africans currently travelling to Syria.

She said there are those looking to assist with the humanitarian emergencies of refugees, others seeking to assist ISIL in bolstering its administration and emergency services and a final group of people, who travel with the express intention of joining the war.

Most South Africans, who travel to ISIL-held territory, Opperman said, do so in a non-combatant capacity. There have, however, been reports of at least two South Africans who died in battle in Syria.

While some reports suggest the men were killed in a car crash in Syria in 2014, relatives of one of the deceased men confirmed he had died in combat.

Last month, the Associated Press news agency revealed that a classified United Nations report had found that 15,000 foreign fighters are currently in Syria and Iraq.

While South Africa’s Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act forbids citizens from participating in military activities abroad, South African mercenaries are well known to be active in Somalia, Nigeria, Afghanistan and Iraq while, South Africans with dual Israeli citizenship have also been noted to have actively participated in battle for the Israeli army.

While several warnings have been issued against South Africans fighting abroad, to date, no South African has been tried for being in contravention of this law.