Israeli Arabs who have traveled to Syria to try to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime could return to Israel better trained and more extremist, officials in the Shin Bet security agency said.
Hundreds of fighters from Arab countries and across Europe flocked to Syria over the past year to join Syrian rebels in their fight against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Most of the foreign fighters are devout Muslims ages 20 to 30, and Israeli citizens were counted among the eager mercenaries. Last month, Umm al-Fahm resident Moueid Zaki Juma was reportedly killed during combat on the Syrian battlefield. An estimated 15 to 30 Israeli citizens are thought to have traveled to Syria to join in the fighting.
"This is an international phenomenon, so I'm not all that surprised that Israeli Arabs are connected to it," said Yonathan Pine, an expert in international extremist religious groups at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. "This is indeed is a marginal phenomenon in Israel, but we need to keep our fingers on the pulse of the issue."
The Shin Bet security agency expressed greater concern over the "dangerous" phenomenon. Chief among those concerns is that fighters could return from Syria with better combat training and more extremist ideas.
Following Juma's death, family members told Israel Hayom that he had been married less than a year ago, adding that his parents and wife were unaware that he had traveled to Syria.
"They were sure he was heading to Turkey and Greece with some friends to clear his mind," a relative of Juma's said. His parents received a photograph of a lifeless Juma after he had been killed in battle, the source said.
The BBC reported that two other young Umm al-Fahm residents traveled to Syria along with Juma. They are still alive and on the battlefield, according to the report. One of the two's mother declined to comment on her son's situation, but said she was "very worried."