Foreign Fighters Join Syrian Rebels: Jihadists Declare Holy War Against Assad Regime
Abu Rami hails from Lebanon, but his heart is in Syria these days. The 40-year-old is one of hundreds of Arabs who are fighting against the Assad regime at the side of Syrian insurgents. Many of these volunteer fighters are veterans of the Iraq war, who have now brought their holy war to Syria.
Abu Rami’s last foray into war wasn’t much of a success. Just after his unit had crossed over the border, one of his men lost his wits. The young man cowered in the undergrowth, trembled and didn’t budge. Out of necessity, the whole unit had to come to a stop: Ten Lebanese, armed with 10 Kalashnikovs loaded with 65 magazines of ammunition, had come to a standstill inside the Syrian border, without any backup.
It was pure luck that the group wasn’t spotted by a Syrian border patrol and that they didn’t come under fire. “We sent the man with the weak nerves back to Lebanon. The rest of us made it as far as Homs,” a 40-year-old man who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Rami said, two days after his return from Syria.
The protest stronghold of Homs is located around 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) from the border. The Lebanese volunteers wanted to fight alongside Syrian rebels in the city’s Khaldiyeh district. They did just that, and retreated only after they ran out of ammunition. Abu Rami says his unit is now waiting in the safety of Lebanon for its next deployment.
Abu Rami is a commander in the growing band of volunteer Lebanese fighters who are getting involved in the conflict in neighboring Syria. Most come from Tripoli, the northern Lebanese city that is largely home to a Sunni Muslim population. Their hatred of the Assad regime is rooted in the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which only ended in 2005.
Despite the withdrawal of its troops, Syria still exercizes considerable influence over Beirut. The Shiites are also in power in the Lebanese capital, further fomenting the hatred of Lebanese Sunnis against Assad and his Lebanese allies, which including the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
‘We Lebanese Are Part of the Syrian Revolution’
Radicals among Lebanon’s Sunnis view the insurgency in their neighboring country as a welcome opportunity to put an end to Damascus’ influence. “The struggle for freedom in Syria is our own struggle for freedom,” says Sheik Masen al-Mohammed, one of the most important Sunni religious leaders in Tripoli. “We Lebanese are part of the Syrian revolution, part of the rebellion. If Syria gains its freedom, then we will also win in Lebanon.” In addition to the political reasons, the sheik also has a key reason for encouraging Lebanese to fight in Syria. “Assad is an infidel,” the sheik says, noting that the Syrian dictator is part of the Alawite sect, which splintered from Shiite Islam hundreds of years ago. Sheik Masen views Assad as an enemy rather than a true Muslim.