European ISIS fighter numbers 'surge to 3,000'

ISIS fighters gesture as they load a van with parts that they said was a U.S. drone that crashed into a communications tower in Raqqa, Syria, early on Sept. 23, 2014. (AFP)

The number of Europeans joining Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq has surged to about 3,000 from 2,000 only months ago, the EU counter-terrorism chief said Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with AFP, Gilles de Kerchove said the flow of Europeans may have been boosted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militant group's declaration in June of a caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq.

"My own assessment is that we're about 3,000," he said, when asked how many European fighters have flocked to the ISIS cause in Syria and Iraq.

"The flow has not been dried up and therefore possibly the proclamation of the caliphate has had some impact," de Kerchove said.

His comments came hours after the United States and its Arab allies unleashed deadly strikes from land and sea on militants in Syria, opening a new front in the battle against ISIS.

The European fighters, he said, come mainly from France, Britain, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark but a few come from Spain, Italy, Ireland and now Austria.

"Even a country like Austria I think has now foreign fighters, which I was not aware of before," he added.

The EU counter-terrorism coordinator nonetheless said he would check his figures with those of European security service chiefs in the next couple of weeks, saying their numbers may be more conservative.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44