ISIS supporters (illustration)
ISIS supporters (illustration)Reuters

Economic concerns and the desire for a sense of purpose and revenge are the major factors pushing young Syrians into the arms of Islamist jihadist groups, a study released on Wednesday found.

The report by peace activist group International Alert draws on interviews with 311 Syrians, their families and members of their communities in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.

It found that males between the ages of 12 and 24 were most at risk of joining jihadist organizations like the Islamic State (ISIS) group and Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Nusra Front.

But instead of being attracted by the groups' ultra-conservative ideologies, young Syrians are more driven by "the need to earn a basic living, regain a sense of purpose and dignity and the belief in a moral duty to protect, avenge and defend."

Young Syrian men said joining armed groups afforded them "a strong sense of purpose, honor and self-worth."

"People can find a new meaning to their life in extremism. Extremism opens a door to a new life where they are wanted," one interviewee told International Alert.

For young children, recruitment into jihadist groups offers them a chance to belong to a peer group that war has denied them by excluding them from class.

With more than two million children out of school in Syria, ISIS and Nusra have been "filling this gap by providing their own forms of education," the report said.

The "Cubs of the Caliphate" recruitment program run by the Sunni extremists of ISIS includes courses in religion and military tactics.

"These 'schools' are highly segregated, exploit sectarian divisions and support divisive narratives."

To prevent recruitment, the report urged host countries for the millions of Syrian refugees to enroll children in school programs that incorporate psychiatric support and trauma treatment.

The report also urged "providing alternative sources of livelihood, better access to positive social groups and institutions, and avenues for exercising non-violent activism."

"If not for this job I would be on the front line with a Kalashnikov," one Syrian man who works as a peace activist in Lebanon said.

Jihadist groups like ISIS and Nusra have shot to prominence in Syria as the uprising that erupted against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011 has degenerated into a devastating civil war.

More than 270,000 people have been killed and nearly five million fled abroad.

AFP contributed to this report.