The Syrian “Jihad” Part 3: Tunisian Architect Turned Jihadist Talks of Holy War in Syria

France24: Abou Ayman is a young Tunisian architect who left everything behind to wage holy war thousands of kilometers from his home. He is one of several thousand foreign jihadists currently fighting against the Syrian regime.

Syria’s best-known rebels, those who belong to the Free Syrian Army, say they are fighting with one sole objective: to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. In contrast, jihadist rebel groups — most notoriously, Jabhat al-Nusra — are fighting in the name of Islam, and their ranks are swelling.

As an example of their growing influence, one need look no further than the videos paying tribute to the “muhajirins” (foreign jihadists) that died in Syria. These videos, in which Islamic fighters openly discuss their goals, have been making the rounds on social networks.

At the start of the revolution, the Syrian regime played the religion card, condemning Islamist “terrorists” that were trying to destabilize Syria. These claims were baseless in the beginning, when the rebellion was still peaceful. However, jihadists quickly came into the picture as the conflict became more violent — and as the conflict continues to drag on, Free Syrian Army rebels are increasingly fighting alongside jihadist groups.

The first foreign jihadists to fight in Syria arrived with combat experience from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Gaza, and even the Caucasus — experience that the Syrian rebels otherwise sorely lacked. However, this is no longer the case: many of the new jihadists arriving in Syria are as inexperienced in the realities of war as the rebels used to be.

Abou Ayman was an architect in Tunisia. He was recruited by the Ansar al-Sharia fighting unit, closely linked with the jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra, which the United States considers to be a terrorist organisation.

Our first goal was just to help out, not necessarily by using weapons. We were ready to babysit, help old people, cook, set up tents, etc.

Once on the ground, we very rapidly made contact with Syrian rebels returning [to Jordan] to visit their families. After a lengthy discussion, they accepted to introduce us to people who would help us enter Syria. At this point, the most serious threat came from the Jordanian intelligence agency, given that we were very conspicuous due to our foreign accent and many other details that betrayed our Tunisian nationality.

Crossing the border was not difficult, but once in Syria, we had to split up. Now, each of us is fighting with a different group in different areas of the country. I’ve come quite far since crossing the border. I am now fighting on the front lines in Damascus region. But I am keeping in touch with my travel companions in various ways, which I cannot talk about.

After having left everything behind in my country, my only desire is to see the rebellion succeed. Once this victory takes place, my duty will have been fulfilled and I can return to my family and my old life.

Mohamed is the head of the Ansar al-Sharia unit.

In my unit, which consists of about 300 men, there are many foreigners, and we welcome them with open arms.
For us, the term “foreigner” is not adequate, because we believe that all Muslims are brothers in Islam. The “muhajirins” are the most pious and motivated. Even though they weren’t forced to, they left behind their possessions and families to come fight by our sides. So they are even more deserving of admiration than the sons of Syria, who are fighting for their families and their land.
Some sold everything they had to pay for the cost of the trip and, once here, they often provide financial support for the war effort [purchase of weapons, ammunition, and food for fighters, etc.] or to help the Syrian population.
In my unit, there are several people of several different nationalities: Tunisians, Kosovars, and Chechens. We fight shoulder to shoulder with a unit that includes Americans, Frenchmen, Malysians, Romanians, etc.

I recently had tea with a French fighter. This man, who is over the age of 50, is not of Arab origin —he is a white man who converted to Islam and chose to come fight with us against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”
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