During an interview with the government-owned Russian news agency TASS on the “Leader of the Caucasus” website, Chechen leader Kadyrov said that Chechens who joined IS comprise a “small drop in the sea” when “compared to the hundreds of thousands of terrorists who came from America, Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia.”
Kadyrov has said that around 480 Chechens have joined IS.
But Chechen intelligence officials told the New Yorker that between 3,000 and 4,000 Chechens left to fight for IS.
Mairbek Vatchagaev, an ethnic Chechen and co-editor in chief of the journal Caucuses Survey told Polygraph.info: “About 3,000 Chechen fighters went through that mash since the beginning.”
Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, the Russia and North Caucasus project director at the International Crisis Group told Polygraph.info that precise figures for the Chechens are unknown. But she said “informally the Chechen authorities admit that the numbers of Chechens leaving for the Middle East are very high and they are unable to prevent their outflow.”
As to how the numbers of Chechens in IS compare with those from other nations, a report from Northwestern University in April 2016 said there are 150 to 250 U.S. foreign fighters, approximately 2,000 Asian fighters, between 5,000 and 5,400 European fighters, 2,000 to 3,000 African fighters, and 120 to 225 Australian fighters.
The numbers in the study contradict Kadyrov’s claim of “hundreds of thousands” of people joining IS in Syria and Iraq from abroad.
“Obviously there are, for a start, not ‘hundreds of thousands’ in any case,” Mark Galeotti, a senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague, told Polygraph.info.
“At its peak, the serious estimates for IS across both Syria and Iraq range from 40,000 to 100,000,” he said of the total number of IS fighters including Arab and foreign fighters.
Pentagon officials said last week that 50,000 IS fighters have been killed by a U.S.-led offensive since 2014 and an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 IS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.
And numbers do not solely tell the story of the significance of Chechens in fighting for IS. After years spent fighting Russians, Chechens found success in IS ranks as several took on leadership roles and are credited with helping in the initial success of IS.