In the last several weeks, jihadist propaganda and news reports from Syria have increasingly mentioned fighters from foreign countries, including China, Chechnya, Germany, Palestine, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Just yesterday, France24 published an article containing an interview with a Tunisian jihadist in Syria and clips featuring jihadists from Tunisia, Libya, and Sweden.
The Tunisian jihadist, an architect named Abou Ayman, traveled with two friends from Tunis to Jordan to fight against the Assad regime, starting first to work with Syrian refugees at a Jordanian camp. From there he and his friends made contact with Syrian rebels who helped them evade Jordanian intelligence and enter Syria, where they joined the Ansar al Sharia unit, which is closely linked with the Al Nusrah Front.
Ayman says that his unit includes “several people of several different nationalities: Tunisians, Kosovars, and Chechens” and that “we fight shoulder to shoulder with a unit that includes Americans, Frenchmen, Malysians, Romanians, etc.,” according to France 24.
The Ansar al Sharia Brigade is one of five jihadist groups based in western Aleppo that joined together and announced the formation of the Supporters of the Khilafah (Caliphate) in December 2012. The five groups are local units within the Al Nusrah Front. [See Threat Matrix report, Syrian jihadists form ‘Supporters of the Khilafah’ Brigade.]
The slain Swedish jihadist shown in one of the clips in the France24 article is identified as Abou Kamal, an upper-middle class young man from Sweden who traveled first to Turkey and then joined the Free Syrian Army in Syria. According to a transcription of the video provided by the SITE Intelligence Group, he left the FSA soon after and joined the Muhajireen Brigade (Emigrants Brigade), where he felt “right at home with the group that consisted of brothers who came to fight for the sake of Allah from around the world.” The Muhajireen Brigade, which fights with the Al Nusrah Front, is commanded by a Chechen named Omar al Chechen. [See LWJ report, Chechen commander leads Muhajireen Brigade in Syria.]
As for the Americans, a recent video showed US Army veteran Eric Harroun fighting alongside Syrian rebels, including the Al Nusrah Front. According to the March 11 Fox News report, Harroun says he is now in Istanbul. A recent LiveLeak photo and caption seem to indicate that the same person, now identified as Eric Aaron, died in Syria fighting with the Al Nusrah Front. There are undoubtedly more like him currently in the rebel ranks in Syria.
On March 13, The New York Times published an article on a video detailing the last hours of the life of a suicide bomber affiliated with the Al Nusrah Front in Syria, and quoted Rami Abdelrahman, head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, as saying he had seen many videos of foreign suicide bombers in Syria but “it is the first time I see the video of a Syrian.” Abdelrahman added:
“I heard his accent and he seemed thrilled and happy to be on this journey to heaven, and it was really moving,” Mr. Abdelrahman said. “It moved me more than if it was a foreign fighter.”
Indeed, it would appear that Syria has become such an attractive jihadist draw that terror organizations like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb are begging jihadists to stay home and fight there instead. The leading al Qaeda affiliate released a message on jihadist Internet forums on March 16 telling aspiring jihadists to avoid unnecessary emigration so as to not “clear the field for secularists,” according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which obtained and translated the statement.
AQIM declared: “The front of the Islamic Maghreb today is in direst need of the support of the sons of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Mauritania, to thwart the attack of Crusader France and defeat its agents in the region, and empower the Islamic project. Emigration and jihad are more important in this front, due to the aggression on their land and the need of this front for these people.”