What Explains the Flow of Foreign Fighters to ISIS?


Benmelech, Efraim, and Esteban F. Klor. 2020. “What Explains the Flow of Foreign Fighters to ISIS?”. Terrorism and Political Violence 32 (7) : 1458-1481.
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This paper provides the first systematic analysis of the link between economic, political, and social conditions and the global phenomenon of ISIS foreign fighters. We find that poor economic conditions do not drive participation in ISIS. In contrast, the number of ISIS foreign fighters is positively correlated with a country's GDP per capita and Human Development Index (HDI). In fact, many foreign fighters originate from countries with high levels of economic development, low income inequality, and highly developed political institutions. Other factors that explain the number of ISIS foreign fighters are the size of a country's Muslim population and its ethnic homogeneity. Although we cannot directly determine why people join ISIS, our results suggest that the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS is driven not by economic or political conditions but rather by ideology and the difficulty of assimilation into homogeneous Western countries. These conclusions are consistent with those of the related qualitative literature that relies on the personal profiles of a small and selected sample of ISIS foreign fighters.


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Last updated on 05/10/2021