By Griff Witte (London Bureau Chief), Sudarsan Raghavan (Cairo Bureau Chief) and James McAuley
Raghavan reported from Cairo and McAuley from Paris. Liz Sly in Beirut, Loveday Morris in Baghdad, Karla Adam in London, Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin, Michael Birnbaum and Annabell Van den Berghe in Brussels, and Matt Zapotosky in Washington contributed to this report.
"... The appeal of Islamic State rested on its strength and its winning. Now that it’s losing, it’s no longer attractive.”
The flow of foreign fighters to the ranks of the Islamic State — once a mighty current of thousands of radicalized men and women converging on Syrian and Iraqi battlefields from nations across the globe — has been cut to a trickle this year as the group’s territory has shrunk and its ambitions have withered.
The decline, officials and experts say, has been dramatic, prolonged and geographically widespread, with the number of Europeans, Americans, North Africans and others joining up to fight and die for the idea of a revived Islamic caliphate falling as precipitously as the terrorist group’s fortunes.
From a peak of 2,000 foreign recruits crossing the Turkish-Syrian border each month, the Islamic State and other extremist groups operating in Syria are down to as few as 50, according to U.S. intelligence assessments.
Governments from Britain to Tunisia say their citizens are less likely than they have been in years to heed Islamic State calls for front-line volunteers, depriving the organization of needed reinforcements and further eroding its ability to cast itself as the rebirth of a vast Islamic empire.
“It’s a massive falloff,” said Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London. “And it’s basically because Islamic State is a failing entity now. The appeal of Islamic State rested on its strength and its winning. Now that it’s losing, it’s no longer attractive.”
The sustained decline marks an important milestone in global efforts to defeat the Islamic State, reflecting measures ranging from a multinational military campaign to, in at least one nation, rules requiring parental permission slips before young men can leave the country.
But Neumann and others said the decline in Islamic State recruiting figures — which has come almost as quickly as they rose following leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of a caliphate in June 2014 — is hardly an unmitigated success for the United States and its allies.