Rift is growing between Islamic State’s foreign and local fighters with recent battlefield setbacks in Iraq and Syria exacerbating latent strains within the terror group as it contends with financial hardships and territory loss, according to a media report.
Foreign fighters, long welcomed by Islamic State as essential parts of its global mission, are generating greater internal discord and even violence just as the group pivots outward to target Europe and the US, the Wall Street Journal reported.
“With time, and because of the financial and management differences between them, the locals started to complain” about the foreign fighters, a Mosul resident was quoted as saying. “We all hope to see the day when this division among the fighters ends them.”
“Throughout Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria, tempers are flaring, showing how recent battlefield setbacks in Iraq and Syria can exacerbate latent strains within the group as it contends with financial hardships and loss of territory,” the report said.
The Mosul resident described a clash he said he witnessed a few weeks ago in a busy market.
In a scene that has become commonplace, a foreign Islamic State fighter angrily denounced an elderly Iraqi man for wearing his beard too short for a properly devout Muslim, the report said.
“Instead of quietly enduring another routine indignity, the old man cursed his detractor, to the surprise of onlookers. But what followed was even more surprising: Six local Iraqi fighters for Islamic State intervened to take the old man’s side. The Iraqis beat their foreign comrade, handcuffed him and threw him into a car, then sped away,” it said.
At least 38,200 foreign fighters from at least 120 countries have travelled to Syria since the beginning of the five-year conflict, according to US intelligence reports.
Many of them, particularly those from Europe, offer little regard for local traditions or rigid tribal structures of western Iraq and eastern Syria.
The growing resentment tends to bubble up following battlefield defeats, said Patrick Skinner, a former Central Intelligence Agency official who is senior associate at the Soufan Group, which follows Islamic State closely.
After Islamic State lost the strategic town of Tal Abyad in northern Syria to Kurdish fighters last autumn, local fighters blamed foreigners for insufficient support, he said.