Information culled from 48 foreign fighters in custody of Multinational Force Iraq yields a profile for al Qaeda foreign terrorists, a senior military official said yesterday.
When analyzed, officials found that foreign terrorists had comparable recruitment stories, including why they joined al Qaeda and what they did once they were smuggled into Iraq, said Air Force Col. Donald Bacon, chief of special operations and intelligence information for Multinational Force Iraq. Bacon spoke with online journalists and "bloggers" during a conference call.
All of the captured or surrendered foreign terrorists were single men, and they averaged 22 years of age. Most worked blue-collar jobs and had little-to-no education or military experience, Bacon said.
All the foreign terrorists came from large families, and standing out was a prime motivator for joining al Qaeda. However, Bacon said, interrogators were interested to find that while foreign fighters said they joined al Qaeda to "make their mark," most were reluctant to tell their families for fear of disapproval.
Multinational Force Iraq interrogators also discovered that al Qaeda misled recruits about the situation in Iraq.
"The overwhelming point from the 48 (foreign terrorists in custody) is they came to Iraq expecting to see Americans get killed, yet what they primarily saw was Iraqis getting killed, and it bothered them," Bacon said. "They did not come to kill Iraqis."
He said the foreign fighters were discouraged to find the expectations al Qaeda instilled in them were not reality upon arriving in Iraq. They came to Iraq expecting to see al Qaeda victorious instead of being defeated, he said.
Multinational Force Iraq officials learned from the foreign terrorists that al Qaeda recruiters prey on young men they deem to be impressionable and lonely, Bacon said. They target recruits at mosques or at their jobs.
"In all cases, the recruiter offered friendship and also offered to teach the future foreign terrorist the basics of Islam ... and that's how the relationship started," he explained.
The foreign fighters revealed that they are usually flown into the airport in Damascus, Syria, and then they are smuggled into Iraq in a process that could take months, he said.
The fighters described their treatment from fellow al Qaeda members and Iraqis as harsh upon their arrival in Iraq. They felt looked down upon by the Iraqis and feared revealing their foreign identity to locals, he said.
Additionally, he said, officials found out that most of the foreign terrorists had signed up to be fighters but were pressured by al Qaeda to become suicide bombers.
"They were told, 'This is your duty. This is what we need you to do for the Jihad. You could be more useful as a suicide bomber than you could be a fighter. You'll be a martyr and this is what we need you to do to win,'" he said.
Ninety percent of suicide bombings in Iraq are carried out by foreign terrorists, Bacon said, making them the most lethal of all insurgents.
"They produce the most destruction and cause the most civilian casualties," he said.
Coalition forces are working with the Iraqi government to tighten border controls, and the number of foreign terrorists entering the country has been reduced to between 40 and 50 a month, compared to an estimated 120 entries in June, he explained.
(Selby works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)