- Zoubeir Souissi/REUTERS
With so much focus on individual Islamic State terrorists originating from North America and Europe, it’s easy to lose focus on where the majority of these jihadists hail from. But in addition to their country of origin, it’s also crucial to understand what their motivations had been to join the failing state.
In a Christian Science Monitor report, correspondent Taylor Luck expounds on the notion that ISIS recruiters have taken advantage of those that have been economically marginalized in areas rife with IS activity.
The evidence presented in the report is compelling.
“In Tunisia, 90% of ISIS recruits are from economically marginalized towns and neighborhoods,” Badra Gaaloul, the president of the Tunis-based International Centre for Strategic, Security and Military Studies, explained to the Monitor.
More than half of the population in Tunisia, a predominantly Muslim country, was reported to be under the age of 30 – of those, 40% of them were unemployed. Additionally, in Jordan, 70% of the population is under the age of 30 – about 1/3 of them were reportedly unemployed.
Although correlation may not necessarily imply causation, the alleged effects of the high unemployment rate and ISIS recruiting figures are difficult to ignore: Luck’s report claims that so far, between 6,000 and 7,000 Tunisians and 3,000 Jordanians have joined ISIS’ ranks, making them the highest number of recruits originating from a single nation and per capita, respectively.
“It is not a coincidence that ISIS is building its … networks in the very neighborhoods, towns, and refugee camps that are economically marginalized – something Al Qaeda had never even considered,” Hassan Abu Haniyeh, an expert in jihadist movements, told the Monitor.
Having an estimated $1 billion in revenue in 2015, ISIS has been able to fund their operations through their illicit oil trade network, along with the taxation of the inhabitants in ISIS-held territories. With US-led coalition airstrikes being conducted more frequently, not only is ISIS’ oil supply drying up, but the number of citizens to tax from their controlled cities is inhibited.
Despite facing financial woes, ISIS’ monetary incentives may still be gathering interest from those that are economically challenged. Even with a 50% cut in wages for their militants, the salary is still a deciding factor for those that are desperate for a source of income.
“The government is not hiring, and no company is investing …,” explained “Ahmed,” an unemployed Jordanian in the report. “We were faced with a choice – to spend the rest of our lives in limbo or to earn a living wage as part of their caliphate. For some the temptation is too much.”
Salaries for each fighter varies with respect to several variables taken into account. For instance, Syrian ISIS militants received about $200 per month, while fighters from a different country of origin were reported to have received $400. Ahmed also claimed that he and all of his unemployed friends were promised a salary of up to $800 to travel to the ISIS caliphate.
In addition to their salary, other bonuses, such as $250 each month for a family of five are added to incentivize those in need. Another militant’s account from a BuzzFeed report claims that $500 a month was being sent to his family’s home. Even attending a three-month training camp in Libya could earn recruits or their families $3,000.
The effects of this new source of income have become more apparent in impoverished communities. Luck reports that homes of families related to alleged ISIS militants have seen additional floors erected and their communities have experienced a “building boom.”
“Thousands of families in impoverished neighborhoods are suddenly living beyond their means, and it is all because their sons are fighting in Syria and Iraq,” continued Gaaloul.
After the devastating advances ISIS militants have succumbed to in recent weeks, it remains to be seen if the jihadists would still be capable of providing financial compensation for their recruits in the near future. And then the crucial question remains: will ISIS still be able to draw in new fighters without the promises of a lucrative salary.