A group of Syrian rebels is working with embassies in Turkey to help foreign fighters defect from the Islamic State and return home. But despite some success, analysts say the effort has yet to stem the flow of foreign fighters joining the group and defections have yet to become widespread.
Thousands of foreign fighters – including huge numbers from Western European countries – have flocked to join the Islamic State and other Islamist groups among the Syrian rebels over the past three years. In an interview, Abu Shujar, a commander and spokesman for the Raqqa Revolutionaries, a moderate rebel group that was driven out of the Syrian city of Raqqa by the Islamic State, said his group has helped about 300 foreign fighters escape the Islamic State.
“If they can get in contact with us, then we help them go out,” said Abu Shujar, who used a nom de guerre for security reasons.
Abu Shujar, whose group is part of a loose-knit alliance with Syrian Kurdish fighters, said would-be Islamic State defectors are moved secretly to their embassies or consulates in Turkey, avoiding both the Turkish authorities and Islamic State members on either side of the Turkish-Syrian border. Most of the defectors are from European countries and are driven by unhappiness about the heavy losses among foreign fighters during last winter’s failed Islamic State attempt to capture the Kurdish border town of Kobani.