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Analysis of the background and process of radicalization among persons who left Germany to travel to Syria or Iraq based on Islamist motivations


The report was prepared jointly by the by the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) and the Hesse Information and Competence Centre Against Extremism (HKE). It is based entirely on information from the federal and state police and domestic intelligence agencies.


The first part of the present analysis (Chapter 3) is limited to describing the absolute and relative frequency of the individual characteristics, providing a picture of the individual aspects. Chapter 4 then provides an analysis of relevant issues, for example by comparing various groups, starting with those persons who left Germany before and after the study’s cut-off date of 30 June 2015. The report closes with conclusions and a look ahead.

Key findings:

  • In 2016, even more than in 2015, the average number of persons leaving for Syria or Iraq each month has dropped significantly. ISIS is explicitly calling for people to remain where they are and attack there.
  • One third are back in Germany again (35%), of which 12% are in prison, one third are still in Syria or Iraq (37%), 16% are (presumably) dead and around 11 % are (presumably) abroad, outside SYR/IRQ.
  • The average age of these persons is decreasing (2016: 23.5 years, 2014: 26.7 years). 7% of all travelers are minors (56 people).
  • The number of girls and women among them significantly increased in 2015 (36%) and decreased again in 2016 (27%).
  • 61 % of the persons leaving for Syria or Iraq were born in Germany. Other countries of birth are Turkey (6%) Syria (5%), Russian Federation (5%) and Lebanon (3%).
  • 35% of those leaving have only German nationality. 27% are dual nationals - GermanTurkish (21%), German-Moroccan (17%), German-Tunisian (13%), German-Afghan (11%) and German-Syrian (7%).
  • 36% of the travelers have Abitur or advanced technical college entrance qualification/higher education entrance qualification/ A-levels [(Fach-) Hochschulreife], 27% obtained a certificate of secondary education [Haupt-Nolksschulabschluss] and 23% have a general certificate of secondary education/O-levels [Realschulabschluss/Mittlere Reife].
  • Salafism continues to be the most important driving force behind radicalisation and departure: nearly 96% of those on whom detailed information on their ideological orientation is available are considered to have a Salafist background.
  • At least 17% of the travelers are converts.
  • The observation that the radicalisation process is more frequently being detected by the individual's social environment (parents, friends, teachers and/or social workers - 2016: 53% and 2014: 35%) indicates a growing societal awareness of Salafist motivated radicalisation.
  • Main factors in radicalisation are friends (63%), some mosques (57%), the internet (38%), so-called Islamic seminaries (31 %), Koran distribution campaigns like "Read!" ["Lies!"] (28%), the family (21 %), so-called fund raisers (l l %), contacts in school (3%) and contacts in prison (2%).
  • Radicalisation is driven by influences from both the real and the virtual world. In areas with a very active Salafist scene, such as in bigger cities, direct personal exchange with like-minded people is apparently more important for radicalisation than the internet.
  • The majority (80%) joined ISIS, only 8% joined Jabhat al Nusra and 6% Junud al Sham.
  • Men and women have different reasons for leaving: men want to fight, women want to marry and engage in a different/new Islamic social order. Women are radicalised even more quickly than men and the radicalisation process usually takes place in the private sphere.
  • The majority (2/3) of persons leaving Germany have a general criminal background.
  • 25% ofreturnees are cooperating with the security services and in 22% of the cases, the parents are cooperating.
  • There are only few known cases of people who withdrew from the extremist Salafist scene after having returned from Syria or Iraq (9%). In contrast, 48% do return to the scene.
  • A larger share of returnees is thought to have been motivated by humanitarian concerns for their latest departure (33% compared to 9% of non-returnees). This correlates with concrete findings that the group of returnees had more often been involved in humanitarian measures (22% compared to 5%) and less often in combat operations (14% compared to 40%).
  • Among returnees there are significantly fewer persons who are known to be violent or are openly violent than among those who are still in Syria or Iraq. If such violent people return, they pose a threat to national security.