Cape Town - An estimated 140 South Africans have reportedly joined the Islamic State (ISIS) insurgency to fight in Iraq and Syria, with at least three already killed in action.
According to the Sunday Independent, Iraq’s ambassador to South Africa Dr Hushaim al-Alawi has confirmed the men’s deaths, saying they were covered up as car accidents.
He said he had notified the Department of International Relations and Co-operation but Department of State Security spokesperson Brian Dube said he was unaware of any South Africans joining ISIS but said intelligence officials would look into it.
According to the newspaper, ISIS is actively recruiting South Africans in the country, and raising funds under the guise of humanitarian aid.
Al-Alawi said that one of the deceased, a 24-year-old man, was recruited by a group in Gauteng that uses the slogan of supporting refugees and orphans. The deceased had travelled with a group of young men from Azaadville and Lenasia.
Armed forced of foreign states
The other two victims were a 26-year-old from Vereeniging and a 54-year-old man from Cape Town.
It is illegal for South Africans to participate in the armed forces of foreign states, render foreign military assistance and take part in armed groups.
As reported by News24 late last month, Jihadists from more than 80 countries have flocked to fight in Iraq and Syria on an "unprecedented scale",according to a UN report.
The UN claims that about 15 000 people have travelled to fight alongside ISIS and other hardcore militant groups from countries that have not previously faced challenges relating to al-Qaeda.
The number of foreign jihadists travelling to fight since 2010 exceeds the cumulative total of the 20 preceding years "many times", added the Security Council study.
At the time, Britain's top police officer, Bernard Hogan-Howe, estimated that five people a week were leaving the country UK alone to fight with ISIS. British security officials estimate that there are currently around 500 British nationals fighting in Syria and Iraq.
The UN warned that more nations than ever face the problem of dealing with fighters returning from the battle zone.
The report was produced by a committee that monitors al-Qaeda, and concluded that the once mighty and feared group was now "manoeuvring for relevance" following the rise of the even more militant ISIS, which was booted out of al-Qaeda by leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Despite the split, the UN concluded that the legal basis for US President Barack Obama's fight against ISIS was justified by its ideological congruence with al-Qaeda, and considered the two groups as part of a broader movement.
"Al-Qaeda core and Isil (ISIS) pursue similar strategic goals, albeit with tactical differences regarding sequencing and substantive differences about personal leadership," the UN wrote.
No boots on the ground
Obama has vowed he will not order a large force into combat in Iraq or Syria, relying instead on air power and local forces.
But his "no boots on the ground" pledge is coming under pressure amid growing calls for advisers and forward air controllers to deploy with Iraqi or Kurdish soldiers to help direct air raids and plan operations.
The ISIS group's "cosmopolitan" use of social media, "as when extremists post kitten photographs", was attracting a new breed of foreign fighters who are put off by the more dogmatic communication tactics of al-Qaeda, said the report.
ISIS leaders recognise "the terror and recruitment value of multichannel, multi-language social and other media messaging," it added.
The UN agreed with the Obama administration that "core al-Qaeda remains weak", but argued that its demise had only paved the way for more bloody groups, for whom "cross-border attacks - or attacks against international targets - remain a minority."