Members of al-Qaeda and other foreign jihadist organisations are entering Syria and establishing themselves as some of the best fighters in the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad of the Guardian reports from Syria.Abdul-Ahad spoke with Abu Khuder, an al-Qaeda fighter who fought with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) before becoming a battalion commander for al-Qaeda’s organisation in Syria known as the Solidarity Front.
Khuder’s men blend in with other rebels as they wear combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards, but they call themselves “strangers” and fight for al-Qaeda. Nevertheless his men meet with members of FSA’s military council almost every day.
From the Guardian:
“We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.”
Khuder told Abdul-Ahad that he helped form one of the first FSA battalions and gained a reputation as one of the bravest and most ruthless men in the Deir el-Zour province but began fighting with local Islamists after becoming frustrated with the disorganization and lack of discipline of the FSA.
Martin Chulov of the Guardian reports that the ongoing battle in Aleppo has brought “scores of foreign jihadists” to fight against regime troops, and other accounts mention incoming fighters from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Jordan, Belgium Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chechnya and Britain.
Al Jazeera reports that some jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda have begun to fly its black flags and say they now have established training camps inside the country.
Phil Rees, filmmaker and author of Dining with Terrorists, told Al Jazeera that it is no longer clear who are freedom fighters and who are al-Qaeda:
“Who is Al Qaeda? Someone coming from Libya who helped overthrow [Muammar] Gaddafi? During Libya, they were considered to be freedom fighters and the British government supported them. Now they travel to Syria where they feel a jihad going on,” he said. “Therefore would you call them Al Qaeda? I don’t think so.”
The Telegraph reports British photographer John Cantlie and Dutchman Jeroen Oerlemans were held in captivity by 30 to 100 Islamists until their release Thursday, and Oerlemans told Dutch media that some of the men had British accents. None of the men were Syrian as the Europeans were released only after members of the FSA showed up and demanded their release.
A local FSA commander told Abdul-Ahad that the relationship between the FSA and the al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have been filled with secrecy and distrust, adding that the jihadists are good fighters but the FSA fears that they will act with the same brutality that led to a sectarian war in Iraq.
A young jihadi from Abu Khuder’s unit was more blunt, saying that the al-Qaeda fighters “are stealing the revolution from us and they are working for the day that comes after.”