Bellingcat

Thursday, 19 December 2013

"Bashar al-Assad Is Not As Bad As These People!" - A Libyan On Joining Jabhat al-Nusra

Earlier this week, Die Welt published a piece by Alfred Hackensberger, "Islamists are worse than Assad", which included an interview with a Libyan, identified as Alah al-Fakhri, detailing his experiences as a foreign fighter in Syria.  The article translates rather well from German to English, and details the fighters time with Ansar al-Allah, which he claims was part of Jabhat al-Nusra, and how he reached Syria with the help of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya.  Alfred Hackensberger has sent me parts of the interview with the fighter which didn't make it to the Die Welt article, which provides additional information on the fighters experience.  The text has been translated from Arabic to German, then German to English.

Question: You went to Syria to fight. Why does a Libyan go to another country to fight?
Answer: This is the solidarity of a Muslim who aids his beleaguered brethren. I wanted to help the Syrian people to obtain their freedom. I wanted to fight alongside the Free Syrian Army, but that did not work out. I ended up with Jihadists.
Q: How did that happen ?
A : I tried to make contacts and a friend had sent me to Ansar al-Sharia. However, I did not who I was fighting with until I arrived in Syria. And it was not the FSA.
Q: With whom then?
A: With a group called Ansar al-Allah, who fought under the umbrella Jabhat al-Nusra.
Q: Were there more foreigners in the group?
A: Yes, most of them were foreigners. They came from Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Egypt, Somalia.
Q: What was standing Ansar al-Allah among the rebels ?
A: They had a bad image. "How can you fight with these people," I had often heard. "They are dangerous and kill people by dozen" .
Q: Have you even seen atrocities?
A: No, I have only heard of it.
Q: How did you come to Syria?
A: We entered the country via Turkey. Some via Istanbul, the others via Ankara. The coordination was in Antakya, also for all other foreign fighters. There, everything was organized, including our trip by bus across the border. They sent a bus with women and children, so we came disguised as a family across the border. The bus went back back and forth.
Q: And the Turkish?
A: There was no military. It was like a normal crossing, people going in and out but without control. The Turkish could have caught us before. But obviously they had no interest.
Q: Where were you been fighting?
A: In the east of Aleppo in the countryside and also at the airport. Exactly, I can not say that. As I drove back home, I was told : Share no information or names, or we kill you! You have to take these people seriously.
Q: Why did you return to Libya after only a month?
A: It was not what I wanted. They fight for a caliphate in all Arab states. They just want the power to be able to enforce their interests. They do not fight for the Syrian people. I wanted the Syrians only help, want a state, which brings democracy and Islam together. So I 'm a non-believer for them. All who disagree are infidels.
Q: Was the group you were with very strict?
A: Music, radio, television and smoking, which was very hard for me as a smoker, was forbidden . Discussions did not exist. If you had just a bit of a different opinion, made you suspicious. You could be seen as a Kuffer, an unbeliever and end up dead. (He puts his hand from one side to the other side of his throat).  I do not want to live and fight in such a repressive atmosphere, and to  risk my life in the war in this kind of situation. I tell you, Bashar al-Assad is not as bad as these people! They are far more dangerous!
Q: Because they slaughter people?
A: Because they do unbelievable things!
Q: What would they do?
A: I don't want to talk about it.
Q: Why did not you go to the other Libyan Liwa fighting in Idlib?
A: I did not know them and had no contacts.  As far as I know, they take the route through Egypt to Syria.
Q: What did normal Syrians, ordinary people, say to you as Libyan fighter in their home country ?
A: In Aleppo I barely came into contact with ordinary civilians. But when leaving I met some. They were very aggressive towards me. “What, do you have want here in Syria? Go back home!” Honestly, this was something I had not imagined! I thought we were welcome to help them. But it seemed to be the opposite!
Q: Does Ansar al- Sharia let go so easily ?
A: Yes, that was relatively easy. I said I want to fight longer, but for that I first had to go home to fix this with my family. They knew that I came to see and check out the situation first, before stay. They did not know that I would not come back. All others with whom I set off remained. I just got this warning from the leaders to keep my mouth shot.
Q: Was there anybody else thinking like you?
A: There was only one guy, who had similar problems. He came with my group to Syria. But he stayed. Maybe there were a couple of others, but we couldn't talk freely what was on our mind.
Q: Are you planning to go again to Syria?
A: Not now! At this point I am more worried about Libya than about Syria. But if I would go again, I would certainly fight only with FSA.  

1 comment:

  1. Strong echoes here of both George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia" and Laurie Lee's "Moments of War."

    Foreign volunteers in a civil war really are expendable pawns. Anyone tempted to do this should read both the above titles first.

    I believe that Laurie Lee saw more action in factional fighting designed to maintain Communist (ie: Russian) control of the Republican army than he did against the Fascists, who were clearly better organized. It later became very clear that the battle for control was necessary because Stalin wanted to ensure that the Republican army lost once he'd negotiated a deal with Hitler to that effect, so he needed to be able to command units to march to certain destruction, or retreat from positions they were quite able to hold.

    Sooner or later, Syria is going to throw up a parallel to that one, too.

    Six of my father's school friends volunteered to fight in Spain, and he only ever saw one of them again. They placed themselves at the mercy of forces and ideology they didn't understand, and were simply crushed underfoot for their pains.

    Fleet Street is trying to whip up a storm of panic about various UK subjects fighting for Islamic groups in Syria, but wiser heads would realize that they don't necessarily share the views and objectives of the group they are fighting for: those groups are just where they ended up.

    If you read Spanish Civil War history, you soon realize that the various factions had organizations in neighbouring countries which "helped" volunteers get to the front, and they would tell any lie or make any promise in order to get the cannon fodder within range of the cannons. Because the communist leaders were fighting for Stalin's negotiating position rather than for victory, it didn't really matter how effectively the volunteers fought, as long as they marched forward when Stalin needed a concession from Hitler and could be betrayed into ambush once he'd got that concession.

    The circumstance in which the Libyan (and some British) volunteers fighting in Syria are least likely to come home, is the one where either Russia or Iran decides to offer the Islamist leadership something they want in return for an Assad victory. They have a fighting chance as long as what's happening is straightforward fighting, but once it becomes a matter of "kicking for position" to borrow a term from Rugby, they will be revered as martyrs by precisely the same men who will dump them in hopeless positions to engineer victory for the other side.

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