THE EU anti-terrorism chief, Gilles de Kerchove, has announced that the number of Europeans joining Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq has risen to more than 3,000.

The total includes all those who have been to the region, including those who have returned as well as those who have been killed there.

Spain arrested nine people in the north African enclave of Melilla and the Moroccan capital of Nador today, one of whom was a Spanish national with the others all being Moroccans.

It is believed that the increased European support is due to the announcement of a caliphate in June, which is an autonomous state overseen by a caliph.

“If you believe in this, probably you want to be part of it as early as possible,” added Kerchove.

The caliphate currently consists of large parts of Iraq and Syria, but the jihadists have released a map on Twitter showing that they hope to control large parts of Europe and the rest of the world by 2020.

Kerchove also warned that Western air strikes would only increase the risk of retaliatory attacks in Europe.

US-led forces have launched more than 200 airstrikes against the Islamic State since August, while the UK parliament is due to vote today on possible air strikes in Iraq.