SHAFAQNA – At least 23 South African citizens have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the ISIL terrorist group, raising concerns of recruitment activity among the country’s sizeable Muslim community.
Various sources have confirmed with Al Jazeera that at least 23 people, including families with children, have left South Africa to join ISIL over the past year. At least eight families are believed to be among the recruits.
Some of the affected families have reacted with shock and confusion to the defection of their relatives.
An official in the Turkish foreign ministry, who asked to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed that around a dozen South Africans were detained and subsequently deported to South Africa for attempting to reach ISIL territory last month.
Some 14,500 people from all over the world have been placed on a “no fly” list that the Turkish government has compiled in consultation with other governments, including South Africa, the official said. The list is an attempt to impede volunteer fighters from travelling to Turkey to enter ISIL-held territory in Syria.
According to a Jasmine Opperman, a Cape Town based analyst with TRAC, a terrorism research and consultant consortium, there are three categories of South Africans currently travelling to Syria.
She said there are those looking to assist with the humanitarian emergencies of refugees, others seeking to assist ISIL in bolstering its administration and emergency services and a final group of people, who travel with the express intention of joining the war.
Most South Africans, who travel to ISIL-held territory, Opperman said, do so in a non-combatant capacity. There have, however, been reports of at least two South Africans who died in battle in Syria.
While some reports suggest the men were killed in a car crash in Syria in 2014, relatives of one of the deceased men confirmed he had died in combat.