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Religion of Peace: 17,000 men and women from more than 90 countries wage MUSLIM holy war for ISIS...

Religion of Peace: 17,000 men and women from more than 90 countries wage MUSLIM holy war for ISIS...

THE JAKARTA POST

One day this April, instead of coming home from school, two teenagers left their valley high in the Caucasus, and went off to war.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a 20-year-old stole her friend's passport to make the same hazardous journey.

From New Zealand, came a former security guard; from Canada, a hockey fan who loved to fish and hunt.

And there have been many, many more: between 16,000 and 17,000, according to one independent Western estimate, men and a small number of women from 90 countries or more who have streamed to Syria and Iraq to wage Muslim holy war for the Islamic State.

Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the group's leader, has appealed to Muslims throughout the world to move to lands under its control — to fight, but also to work as administrators, doctors, judges, engineers and scholars, and to marry, put down roots and start families.

"Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State," a Canadian enlistee in Islamic State, Andre Poulin, says in a videotaped statement that has been used for online recruitment. "You can easily earn yourself a higher station with God almighty for the next life by sacrificing just a small bit of this worldly life."

The contingent of foreigners who have taken up arms on behalf of Islamic State during the past 3 1/2 years is more than twice as big as the French Foreign Legion. The conflict in Syria and Iraq has now drawn more volunteer fighters than past Islamist causes in Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia — and an estimated eight out of 10 enlistees have joined Islamic State.

They have been there for defeats and victories. Following major losses in both Syria and Iraq, the fighters of Islamic State appear to have gotten a second wind in recent days, capturing Ramadi, capital of Iraq's largest Sunni province, and advancing in central Syria to the outskirts of the ancient city of Palmyra, famous for its 2,000-year-old ruins.

There are battle-hardened Bosnians and Chechens, prized for their experience and elan under fire. There are religious zealots untested in combat but eager to die 

They include around 3,300 Western Europeans and 100 or so Americans, according to the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, a think tank at King's College London.

Ten to 15 percent of the enlistees are believed to have died in action. Hundreds of others have survived and gone home; their governments now worry about the consequences.

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