Swedish Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq

14 June 2017

In a ground-breaking study, Linus Gustafsson and Dr. Magnus Ranstorp are exploring the phenomenon of Swedish foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq by analysing unique information provided by the Swedish Security Service. The aim is to fill empirical gaps and understand the Swedish foreign fighter contingent by analysing set variables in the period of 2012 to 2016.

The study examine a set of variables of the foreign fighters that have travelled from Sweden to join jihadi terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq in the period of June 2012 to September 2016. The analysis includes 267 people that are, or have been, residents of Sweden. That is nearly all of the 300 Swedish individuals who the Security Service have so far reported as having left for the Islamic State and to a lesser extent al-Qaeda affiliated groups.

The study shows that 76 percent of the foreign fighters are men, 24 percent are women and that the average age of the foreign fighters are 26. 18 percent of the travellers are 19 years old or younger.

Further, a majority of the foreign fighters come from four of Sweden's 21 counties – Västra Götaland, Stockholm, Skåne and Örebro. More than seventy percent have been residents of an exposed area. Finally, 75 percent of the foreign fighters are Swedish citizens, and 34 percent are born in Sweden.

For the first time we have exact figures - not estimates - about Swedish citizens who have left for Syria and Iraq since 2012 to join jihadist terror groups. We can say with confidence where they come from, how old they are and the proportion of men, women and children says Dr Magnus Ranstorp, Research Director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish Defence University.

This report is unique in that it also provides an analysis of what we know about foreign fighters from other European states.

Contact:

Magnus Ranstorp
Department of Security, Strategy and Leadership, CATS

Magnus.Ranstorp [at] fhs.se