Of Alienation, Association, and Adventure: Why German Fighters Join ISIL


  • Dorle Hellmuth The Catholic University of America


This article provides an analysis of German foreign fighters who have left for Syria and Iraq since early 2012 and make up the second largest contingent among Western foreign fighters. It draws on statistical information about German foreign fighters, but also uses case studies in an attempt to shed more detailed light on their motivations and why they became radicalized. Drawing on recently released government data, trial documents, and media reports, the article seeks to contribute to new research on the prevailing mechanisms of Jihadi radicalization. To facilitate this kind of comprehensive analysis, McCauley and Moskalenko’s Friction framework is applied to fourteen prominent German fighters, including Denis Cuspert (who served as medium-level ISIL propaganda official), Philip Bergner and Robert Baum (responsible for ISIL suicide attacks in Iraq and Syria), Kreshnik B. and Harun Pashtoon (among the first returning fighters convicted of ISIL membership and other terrorist activities). The article concludes with a discussion of countermeasures used to prevent foreign fighters from leaving Germany, deradicalize those who have started to embrace violent ideas and/or actions, and deal with returning foreign fighters.  

Author Biography

Dorle Hellmuth, The Catholic University of America

Assistant Professor of Politics, The Catholic University of America