From early on in the Syrian–Iraqi conflict, foreign fighters from Belgium have played an important role. To begin with, there have been many of them: on a per capita basis, more fighters have come from Belgium than from any other Western European country. But beyond this, they have often ended up in the right place at the right time. Many of them joined a key militia in the genesis of the Islamic State (IS), and some were even present when IS was founded. Furthermore, many were under the command of later IS heavyweights, and several contributed to the transformation of IS into an international terrorist group. Finally, a few of them took part in the first major attacks by IS on Western soil—both in Paris and in Brussels. Based on exclusive witness accounts, court documents and the screening of social media accounts, we have reconstructed the path of the most important Belgians in the rise of this worldwide terrorist threat. We have even learned about a Belgian who is said to be one of the very first Western fighters in Syria and whose activities suggest that the jihadist movement—then still unified under the al-Qaeda banner—had already intended to hijack the Syrian uprising before it became a real war.
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