Battling with ISIS, Iraq and Syria are the nations most affected by terrorism and jihadi attacks. As per a senior US military officer, the precise number of foreign Islamist extremists still active and fighting in Iraq and Syria are not known by US intelligence agencies. The agencies also have no clear idea about the threat they pose to their home countries.
Some 40,000 foreign jihadists have joined the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria from at least 120 countries in Europe, Africa and south-east Asia, General Michael Nagata said yesterday at Washington's Center for Strategic andInternational Studies think-tank.
"We know we have killed several thousands of foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria," said Nagata, director of theNational Counterterrorism Center's Directorate for Strategic Operational Planning.
"But we are unable to give you a precise number. It's a substantial number."
"We really don't know" how many remain despite the massive resources trying to determine the number, he added.
Estimating the security threat they pose their home countries on their return is also problematic, he said.
"ISIS and the foreign terrorist fighter problem is not a monolith," he said, using an alternate acronym for the ISgroup. "It's an incredibly diverse set of actors with an an incredibly diverse set of motivations."
However, the security threat -- particularly from the children of jihadists who have followed their parents to Iraq and Syria and could potentially perpetrate attacks in their home countries -- should not be overestimated, Nagata said.
The IS group has released videos apparently showing children executing prisoners in order to "create a propaganda-driven impression that all the children of ISISfighters will take up the black flag, that they are ready now to commit acts of violence even if they are only 11 or 12, "Nagata said.
Although "there may be some truth" in that perception, he said, "it is probably not as strong or widespread as what theIslamic State group wants us to believe."
The IS group has lost much of the territory it once held during a more than a two-and-a-half-year military campaign by a US-led international coalition.
Coalition-backed Iraqi forces are currently battling to recapture the northern city of Mosul from the jihadists.
US-backed fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces are also mounting an offensive to retake the Syrian city of Raqa, the IS group's last major stronghold in that country.