The number of North African fighters
Intelligence services and counter terrorism units have information which could be accurate or close enough to accuracy, especially those countries that are affected or follows the Syrian or Iraqi conflict. Turkey is most knowledgeable regarding this issue since they record all those fighters nationalities, figures and their entry date to the Syrian territories since they all came to Turkey either from its airports or ports. Many of them enter Syria illegally by the help of Syrian smugglers at the Syrian-Turkish borders. Unlike Shiite militias that fight alongside the Syrian government forces like Hezbollah, Iraqi Shiite factions and Hazara Afghans enter to Syria in coordination with the Syrian Government and Iran across many border points like Syrian-Lebanese border and Syrian-Iraqi borders and Syrian airports.
There is no exact figure for the number of North African fighters in Syria, whether they are part of Nusra Front, ISIS or any other factions. According to many counter-terrorism centres like International Center for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence [ISCR] and Paris-based Centre of Strategic, Security and Military Studies on Syria [CSSMS] there are more than 5,300 fighters located in many areas across Syria and present in many jihadist groups.
Fighters from Harakat Sham Islam / Twitter
The Number of Tunisian fighters are around 3,000 -4,000 fighters in Syria and they are leading the number of foreign fighters in Syria, most reports suggest that 90% of them are with ISIS while the rest are with other Jihadist groups such as Nusra Front.
The Moroccans comes second with number of 1,500 – 2,000 fighters including the European nationals of Moroccan origins especially from countries with large Moroccan communities like France, Belgium and Netherlands. Unlike other North African nationalities, The Moroccans have their Independent Jihadist group named “Harakat Sham al-Islam” that was established in August 2013 by three Moroccan detainees who had been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Ibrahim bin Shakran, Ahmed Mizouz and Mohammed Alami, this group has participated in many major offensives in Syria.
The number of Algerian fighters are between 200 – 1,000 fighters including the Europeans of Algerian origins and around 15% - 20% of them have been killed in various forms and in different battles and 10% of them are wounded. Many of them decided to leave the war in Syria and return home for various reasons.
The Libyans were the first North Africans to join the fight in Syria and they are known for their military experience which has made them ready for the war, they created an Independent jihadist group named “al-Battar” which later they swore allegiance to ISIS and they are part of it until now. The Number of Libyan fighters have decreased since The Libyan civil war started in 2014 between Haftar forces and ISIS has encouraged many Libyans to return back to Libyan to fight, there is no more than 500 Libyan fighters left in Syria and most of them are with ISIS.
The fundamental problem in those people especially the youngsters is that they are easily convinced or brainwashed, most of them are being recruited online through Social Networking sites like Facebook convincing them by misinterpreted religious texts from the Quran and Hadith which is considered the strongest tool of propaganda used by ISIS and since most youngsters have a basic understanding of Islam especially the Europeans of North African origins who lives in Europe they are most likely to believe it.
International Community has failed to intervene and to protect the civilians in Syria that are massacred by Syrian government forces and Shiite militias on daily basis, the images and videos of massacred Syrian people has encouraged many of them to pack up their bags and go there to help the Syrian people in their fight against the Syrian Government without knowing who are the other groups in the battlefield.
Houla Massacre / Al Jazeera.com
Most of the people who are recruited online fly to Syria individually sometimes as groups, So when they arrive in Turkey [Istanbul] they mostly head to cities that are close to the Turkish-Syrian borders like Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep and Adana where there is a large Jihadist recruitment network [ISIS, Nusra front and Jund al-Aqsa] that sends those North Africans and other nationalities to Syria. Main Opposition forces in Syria like Free Syrian Army and Islamic Front has not made any announcement or call for the foreigners to come and fight in Syria.
Reasons for Joining the Syrian war
Deteriorating economic situation has also played a key role in pushing a lot of people towards extremism, for example the unemployment rate in Tunisia after the Tunisian revolution in 2011 has reached up to 30% in poor areas which created a lot of frustration and disappointment among the Tunisians youth. Also successive Governments of Tunisia has failed to improve social and economic conditions of the country.
Under the deteriorating economic situation in North Africa the Salafist\Wahabi ideology has managed to spread rabidly among the people. The rise of extremism in North African countries like Tunisia has pushed many of them to go to Syria and to join Jihadists groups for ideological reasons.
Tunisian salafis protesting /sasapost.com
The features of that North African fighters is they are generally strong physically and do not show any softness in their behavior, many of them do carry out suicide attacks like the Saudi fighters in the ranks of ISIS, Nusra Front and other jihadist groups. North African fighters are present in many Jihadist groups like 85% of them are with ISIS and 15% of them are with Nusra Front, Ansar Deen Front, Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar Sham. Most of them are operating in Aleppo suburbs, Idlib Suburbs, Latakia Suburbs, Raqqa and Dier Zour depending where each Jihadist group is operating.
Tunisian salafi rising Liwa Flag / Facebook
The majority of the reports indicate that the Libyans have the least presence in Syria compared to neighbouring countries like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Ennahda Party which is affiliated to Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for easing around 3,000 Tunisians to go to Syria and for realising all Islamists from the prisons after the fall of President Ben Ali which created a lot of chaos and terrorism in Tunisia and other countries like Syria and Libya.
ICSR, 20,000 foreign fighters in Syria (English) - [http://icsr.info/2015/01/foreign-fighter-total-syriairaq-now-exceeds-20000-surpasses-afghanistan-conflict-1980s/
SASAPost, The Increasing numbers of fighters from North Africa in Syria (Arabic) - [http://www.sasapost.com/isis-tunisien-and-morrocan/