VATICAN CITY - Young Syrians are gravitating towards the radical Islamic State due to a lack of prospects and the lure of financial support more than "ideological conviction", the pope's Syria envoy said on Saturday (Aug 23).
IS militants, which have been active in the Syrian conflict for several years, have made headlines in recent months after grabbing large swathes of northern Iraq and declaring a caliphate spanning the territory they hold in both countries. They have struck fear into neighbours and countries further afield as they massacre Christians and opponents, put the severed heads of their victims on display, indoctrinate young children and implement strict Sharia law wherever they go.
In an interview with Radio Vatican, Mario Zenari - who has remained in Syria throughout the bloody conflict - said he believed that young militants rushing to join their ranks did not as a rule do so out of "ideological conviction".
"They are frustrated to see that ideals of democracy and freedom are not progressing, that the situation is deadlocked," he said. "They go to them because they (the jihadists) are more efficient and also sometimes because they get bigger economic support from them."
The rise of IS has also sent alarm bells in the West as nationals from many European countries have gone to join the ranks of the jihadists. The masked man who carried out the grisly execution of US journalist James Foley, for instance, spoke with an English accent and is believed to be British. "In Europe too, there are so many who follow dreams of creating a utopian society... because the attempt to reform, to create more democratic states, with bigger freedom, has failed," Zenari said.
He also bemoaned the fact that the current crisis in Iraq has overshadowed the tragedy in Syria, where more than 191,000 people have died since the conflict broke out in 2011. "Syria has disappeared from the radars of the international community, it has been forgotten," he said, pointing out that there was still an average of 180 deaths a day in the country.
Jihadists are still hugely active in Syria, and are currently pressing onto Aleppo, the big northern city, he added.