Category Archives: Civil War

At Least 50 US Citizens Fighting in Syria

US intelligence officials release estimate of how many US citizens are fighting in rebel factions, express concern over terrorism at home.

 

US Intelligence officials estimate that at least 50 US citizens are fighting in Syria against President Bashar Assad, and are liable to bring terrorism back to the US once the war is over, according to the Los Angeles Times.

James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee Tuesday that as many as 7,500 foreign nationals are fighting in Syria from 50 countries. The estimate is much lower than reports from Syrian sources, who claim that the number is at least ten times that much – reaching over 75,000.

An official told the Times that the number of Americans estimated to be fighting in the war is about 50, the first concrete estimate given by a US authority, according to the daily. Earlier estimates provided a wide range – between 10 and 60.

Clapper expressed concern about the threat the US fighters could pose once they return, citing evidence that Al Qaeda has been training foreign nationals to bring the Islamic holy war outside of the Middle East.

“Not only are fighters being drawn to Syria, but so are technologies and techniques that pose particular problems to our defenses,” Clapper said. FBI Director James B. Comey added that counter-terrorism experts are trying to locate and track US nationals involved in the fighting who have already returned home.

This is not the first time that concerns have been raised about the presence of western-born and raised Al Qaeda fighters in Syria, including on the front lines of key battles.

In July, a US passport was found in an abandoned base that served the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) organization, after Kurdish fighters pushed back Islamist forces in northern Syria following fierce clashes.

More recently, the Times notes, US citizen and Army veteran Eric Harroun, a Phoenix native, was charged with being involved with the Al Qaeda satellite the Al Nusra Front; Nicole Lynn Mansfield, a convert to Islam from Flint, Michigan, was killed after she joined a rebel faction in May.

While Western countries – especially the US and Britain – have backed the rebel forces during the three year conflict, western states have become uneasy over the growing influence of radical Islamist elements among the rebel movement.

Recently, funding for some extremist rebel groups has been revoked, but foreign nationals – including many western citizens – continue to pour into Syria, and western security services are concerned about what this means for their own countries’ future security.

The Western countries have become so concerned, in fact, that they have reached out to Assad’s regime forces over the issue – but no progress has yet been made.

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Junior Jihad: Syrian Rebels Present Four-Year-Old Fighter

Footage shows four-year-old son of foreign jihadi fighter firing Kalashnikov rifle, to shouts of ‘Allahu Akbar’.

 

In the latest alarming evidence of child soldiers being used by Syrian rebel forces, an Islamist brigade linked to Al Qaeda released footage of a four year old it claimed as its youngest recruit.

In the video (below), the child – who can barely hold the AK-47 rifle he is firing – lets off two shots to cheers of “Allahu Akbar”. The tiny boy is clad in a black ski mask and is forced to rest the barrel of the rifle on what appears to be a section of a roadblock to prevent himself from falling over.

Britain’s Daily Mail reported that the child is believed to be the son of an Albanian jihadi, one of thousands of foreign Islamist fighters who have flocked to fight on both sides of the Syrian civil war, which is increasingly being waged as a sectarian conflict between Islam’s Shia and Sunni sects.

In December, a video by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) illustrated the numerous cases of young Syrian children – often orphans who parents were killed by the Assad regime – fighting among the ranks of the country’s various rebel factions.

The video comes as French Prime Minister Francois Hollande claimed that both France and the UK had seen up to 700 foreign Islamist fighters from each of their countries leave to fight in Syria.

“We have young people who live in our respective countries who are being manipulated, and they are going off to the combat areas,” he said after a press conference with his British counterpart David Cameron. “Today we were exchanging figures – 600 to 700 young people are involved in each of our countries.”

Western security officials are concerned that some of the scores of fighters from Europe and North America could eventually return – radicalized and well-trained – to their native countries and commit attacks there.

Earlier this month a report revealed how an Islamist network led by British Muslim extremist Anjem Choudary was actively recruiting young British Muslims to fight in Syria, under the noses of British authorities.

A jihad against preachers of jihad

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Daoud al-Shirian, our colleague, recently opened fire on preachers of jihad, whom we know sacrifice the sons of others. Although many became occupied with the controversy over the significance of the word “jihad” on the religious level and its political use, the most important aspect is that some preachers rushed to deny having called for jihad: “We did not call for jihad and we did not incite anyone.”

Even one of the extremist preachers wrote to declare his innocence saying that young men called him for a fatwa (religious edict) to travel for jihad in Syria but he forbade them and urged them not to go! He also said that he made sure to show the angry enthusiastic young men that there are enough men in Syria who desire to accomplish the duty of fighting the Assad regime!

If such preachers are honest, then this is a laudable orientation and an important change. But when it comes to this issue of jihad, there are involved preachers who want to shift blame on governments. Other preachers claim it’s their religious duty to mobilize for jihad, and those are of course more dangerous.

The aim is not to defame preachers but to put things in perspective. Are those who incited and sent a Kuwaiti or a Saudi youth to fight in Syria only to return in a coffin considered partners in crime? Or are they just preachers where incitement is an act of religious preaching and where the one committing it does not bear any responsibility? Inciting and mobilizing is a crime no matter what their language is, be it religious or patriotic – they push others to commit murders.

No right

The difference between jihad and murder lies in the legislation and decision. You have the right to defend your country and people in the absence of a civil and legitimate regime. Preachers have no right to declare jihad whenever they want for otherwise the world would become chaotic. The one who has the right to declare war is the state and its legitimate institutions.

Fighters who were sent to Iraq and now to Syria are not a party at war. They took to fighting after they were incited to do so by preachers who issued them fatwas and by others who financed them. Now, some of them returned dead and their families are demanding their governments to punish those who incited their sons to violence and sent them to die out there.

The problem is not Syria alone. Tragedies in the world are many. It does not make sense that at each war, preachers take to podiums or release recordings calling for fighting from Afghanistan to Bosnia, Somalia, Chechnya, Iraq and now Yemen and tomorrow Burma and Guinea. And the incitement list goes on.

Keeping silent

Some inciting preachers think people’s memories are short, so in the past few months, they decided to retreat and keep silent. As to why they did so, it’s because they are afraid of the consequences of the recent developments as families mourning the loss of their sons are directing accusations against them and calling for punishing them. They also became afraid after superpowers announced they will place them on specific list and monitor their funds and bank accounts.

The aim of sending young men for jihad is not really to fight the Assad regime, as these men end up as soldiers in al-Qaeda. It’s because of this that terrorist organizations have become stronger than before and deployed in the entire region.

Although many brag they will fight the Assad regime, we are later surprised that they are with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria.

Liberating the Syrian people from their tragedy and toppling the Assad regime are aims that deserve making all efforts for. But these sublime goals have nothing to do with the concepts of jihadists who ride the political waves, run towards chaotic areas and raise Islamic banners. They are in fact brigades of slaughter that are not less evil than the Assad regime itself.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 22, 2014.