‘Free Syrian Army, more and more like ISIS’

This video says about itself:

11 February 2014

During Friday’s sermon, Saudi Cheikh Mohamed Arifi appeals to Muslims for Jihad for Allah’s sake against the Syrian army and to join the Free Syrian Army. The latter consists predominantly of Jihadis (Mujahideen) and committed many atrocities against civilians.

Translated from Irene de Zwaan, in Dutch daily De Volkskrant, 6 January 2015:

“First, I fled from Assad, now from the Free [Syrian] Army’

REPORT: Two years ago the Free Syrian Army was considered to be the apple of the eye of the West. But moderation has gone away in the FSA long ago. The fighters are becoming more Islamic.

I would not say ‘Islamic’; rather ‘Islamic in a fanatical, violent sense’, somewhat like the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the so-called ‘Islamic State’ of ISIS.

Among the population, they are known as murderers and looters.

Laila is 24 years old. Her district in Aleppo is bombed day after day. Not by the Syrian regime, but by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) that targets government districts in the city. “It’s a kind of explosive barrels, filled with gas,” Laila said in a café in the Turkish border town of Hatay. She fled to there three months ago. Because she still has family in Aleppo, she prefers to keep her surname secret.

The FSA bombs are intended for military purposes, but mainly cause many civilian casualties. “They land in the middle of the street, but also regularly on buses and houses,” says Laila. “A first bomb is always followed by a second one and a third one. You never know where you’re safe. I always sat on the stairs and waited there.”

Three months ago, disaster struck. Her house was hit. Laila narrowly escaped death. That was the time for her to leave for Turkey. “It’s actually quite ironic,” she says. “At the beginning of the war, I was fleeing from the regime. Now I fled from the FSA.”

Two years ago the FSA was still idolized by the population in opposition areas. It was the only serious group fighting against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Meanwhile, the fighters are known as looters and murderers. The stories are numerous, although they are difficult to check: FSA fighters pilfering food packages intended for the people, houses of displaced Syrians robbed and expensive cars stolen and resold.

Weakened militarily

The FSA is not only facing an image problem, but has also been weakened militarily. The “apple of the eye of the West” has disintegrated into dozens of splinter groups, each operating under its own name and flag. Chaos reigns. While two years ago, there was a cry for “freedom” and “democracy”, now they are calling for the introduction of sharia.

The moderate FSA is no longer, say sources the Volkskrant spoke to during three weeks at the Turkish-Syrian border. “Friends around me were increasingly clinging to religion,” says Ahmed Akidi, a 18-year-old FSA warrior and son of the powerful rebel commander Abdul Jabbar Akidi. “The FSA becomes more Islamic day after day.”

Laila from Aleppo tells how a friend of her renounced his love for hard rock music and girls when he joined the FSA. “I was told that I had better not call him, because his faith did not allow that he had contact with a woman.”

According to Ahmad al-Halabe (25), a native of Aleppo, it is no wonder that in recent months reportedly four hundred fighters have defected to the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS) and the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front. “It is easier to fight for a group with a clear ideology than for a group that has lost its right to exist.”

Al-Halabe fought last year for a few weeks for the FSA in Aleppo. He stopped when he noticed that it was a motley crew. “There was no leadership, there was often shooting at random. Everyone was exhausted, the force was weakened”, he sums up the situation.

Harsh conditions

According to Ahmed Akidi, still fighting for the movement, during the last two years it has certainly lost half of its fighters. They have lost their faith in a victory over the regime, are frustrated by the lack of leadership or are put under pressure by their family to stop.

Also, the much reduced salary plays a role. …

Army leaders of the FSA blame the very bad financial state on the West, said to not fulfill its promises. Of $ 10 million pledged this year only 20 percent is said to have been paid. Of light weapons and ammunition is an even smaller proportion (around 10 percent) is said to have been delivered. The result is, according to Akidi, that the FSA is completely dependent on sponsors, particularly from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. “These are wealthy individuals who each fund their own battalion. FSA is thus fragmented into groups, each with their own agenda.”

Not the fighters themselves, but the sponsors determine what moves are made on the battlefield, said Ahmad al-Halabe. “They really decide everything. On who is being shot, where, when. Combatants are obliged to send evidence in the form of videos and photos. If the orders are not executed properly, then the aid is stopped.”

According to Akidi the sponsors have a twofold objective: to defeat Assad and to spread Islam. The FSA is much more malleable than highly organized movements like ISIS and Al Nusra. That makes them easy prey.

American money

Some factions of the FSA receive financial support this year from the United States of America.

'Moderate' Syrian rebels, Latuff cartoon

How did the Syrian uprising become dominated by jihadists? Here.

Saudi Arabia is right to be anxious over its ideological links with Isis. The Saudi authorities have condemned Islamic State, but they fear the destabilising effects of any detailed examination of their shared principles: here.

ISLAMIC STATE VIDEO PURPORTS TO SHOW CHILD EXECUTING TWO RUSSIAN SPIES The child also appeared in a video for the Islamic State last year. [WaPo]

Just 60 Syrian rebels are receiving training from the US Army to fight Isis, it has emerged. Initial plans hoped for up to 5,400 recruits in a year: here.

A brigade of the Free Syrian Army (FSA, Free Syrian Army) has joined the SDF ( Syrian Democratic Forces). … The Union of Free Officers announced they were leaving the ranks of the FSA and joining the self-defense forces. Their representatives expressed a strong aversion to the type of Islam that has been permeating the FSA: here.

156 thoughts on “‘Free Syrian Army, more and more like ISIS’

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  32. Democratie in Oost-Ghouta ook na ‘staakt-het-vuren’ ver te zoeken: hier geldt de sharia

    Wie zijn de Syrische rebellen in Oost-Ghouta – en tegen wie vechten ze?

    Maandagmorgen, anderhalve dag nadat de VN-veiligheidsraad instemde met een staakt-het-vuren in Syrië, zetten rebellen in Oost-Ghouta een filmpje op Twitter. De camera toont strijders die juichend door een boomgaard rennen: ‘Allah is groot.’ Beelden van lijken in loopgraven. De ‘monsters van Assad’ zijn dood: deze ‘vooropgezette val’ is geslaagd. Het gevechtsbestand waaraan ook rebellen zich volgens de VN-resolutie moeten houden? Daarover zwijgen deze strijders.

    Door: Ana van Es 26 februari 2018, 19:57

    Wie zijn de rebellen in Oost-Ghouta, een stedelijke rafelrand met honderdduizenden inwoners ten oosten van Damascus? De rebellen in het filmpje horen bij Jaish al Islam (‘Leger van de Islam’). Iedereen – van Syrische staatsmedia tot westerse onderzoekers – is het erover eens: Het Leger van de Islam is de grootste en belangrijkste rebellengroep in Oost-Ghouta, met in geheel Syrië 17 tot 30 duizend strijders. Saoedi-Arabië wordt genoemd als hun geldschieter.

    Het Leger van de Islam heeft twee gezichten: geharde extremisten op de grond in Oost-Ghouta, maar aimabel gezelschap bij internationale vredesbesprekingen in Genève en Astana.

    Overgave zou in elk geval de levens van sommige burgers redden
    Voormalig Amerikaans Syrië-ambassadeur Robert Ford in een interview met het Carnegie Middle East Center

    Hoewel de Syrische regering spreekt van ‘terroristen’, is het Leger van de Islam internationaal niet aangemerkt als terreurorganisatie. …

    Toch lijkt het Leger van de Islam in sommige opzichten op Al Qaida. Hun vlag is het jihadistische zwartdoek, de organisatiestructuur afgekeken van jihadistische groeperingen in Irak, hun ideaal is de moslimoverheersing uit vroegere tijden. Democratie in Oost-Ghouta is ver te zoeken: hier geldt de sharia, het traditionele islamitische recht. Een zedenpolitie ziet erop toe dat vrouwen zich bedekkend kleden.


    Het Leger van de Islam is uitgesproken sektarisch: alleen soennitische moslims zijn goede moslims. De toenmalige leider van het Leger van de Islam, Zahran Alloush – later gedood bij een luchtaanval – doet in 2015 een omstreden videoboodschap de deur uit. Hij bepleit om Syrië te zuiveren van ‘onreine’ sjieten en alawieten. … Vanwege dit soort video’s is het ‘heel moeilijk om een harde lijn te trekken’ tussen zijn ideologie ‘en die van Al Qaida-groeperingen’, schreef de Amerikaanse onderzoeker Joshua Landis in 2013.

    In november 2015 komt het Leger van de Islam internationaal in opspraak als een video verschijnt waarin burgers, mannen en vrouwen, in kooien worden rondgereden door Oost-Ghouta, als ‘menselijk schild’ tegen luchtaanvallen van het Assad-regime. De gevangenen zijn vermoedelijk families van regeringssoldaten, gegijzeld in aanpalende wijken van Damascus.

    We wijzen elk initiatief af waarin inwoners hun huizen verlaten en elders worden ondergebracht
    Citaat uit een brief van het Leger van de Islam aan de VN-veiligheidsraad

    Hoewel de rebellen zich binnen Syrië manifesteren als jihadisten, tonen ze zich in buitenlandse contacten van hun salonfähige kant. De diplomaat van het Leger van de Islam, Mohammed Alloush, vliegt in pak met en met keurig getrimd baardje de wereld over, naar internationale vredesbesprekingen in Geneve. Als hoofd van een groep Syrische oppositiegroepen overlegt hij met VN-toponderhandelaar Staffan de Mistura, al vindt hij vredesbesprekingen ‘zonde van de tijd.’

    Later, als Rusland de bovenhand krijgt in de onderhandelingen, schuift Alloush aan bij bijeenkomsten in Astana, Kazachstan, waar hij de Syrische regering omschrijft als een ‘terroristische eenheid.’

    In Oost-Ghouta vecht het Leger van de Islam ondertussen niet alleen tegen de aanhangers van Assad, maar vooral ook tegen de andere rebellengroepen in de enclave. Vooral met Faylaq al Rahman, een eenheid van het Vrije Syrische Leger die ook cellen herbergt van een plaatselijke Al Qaeda-afsplitsing. De twee rebellenspelers vechten om de grond in de enclave, waar veel geld te verdienen valt bij het ene checkpoint waardoor voedsel en levensmiddelen naar binnen komen.


    Kunnen inwoners de Oost-Ghouta, door de secretaris-generaal van de VN omschreven als ‘de hel op aarde,’ verlaten? Nee. En dat ligt niet alleen aan het regime van Assad. Het Leger van de Islam, blijkt uit meerdere bronnen, doet er zelf alles aan om de mensen niet te laten ontsnappen.

    Mensenrechtenorganisatie Amnesty meldt in 2016 dat bewoners wordt gedreigd met arrestatie als ze de rebellen zelfs maar vragen om te mogen vertrekken. Vrouwen en kinderen krijgen sowieso nooit toestemming voor de reis naar Damascus, stelt Reach, een onderzoeksbureau dat aan de VN is gelieerd, eind vorig jaar. Ze mogen niet weg ‘om veiligheidsredenen’. Militairen van Assad bij het checkpoint zouden vrouwen lastigvallen. Alleen mannen boven de 40 mogen soms vertrekken.

    Zelf ontkent het Leger van de Islam dat bewoners worden gegijzeld in de Oost-Ghouta. Maar de VN-veiligheidsraad ontving in de aanloop naar de stemming over het staakt-het-vuren een brief die andere taal spreekt. ‘We wijzen elk initiatief af waarin inwoners hun huizen verlaten en elders worden ondergebracht.’

    Hoe lang blijft het Leger van de Islam de Oost-Ghouta nog controleren? Een poging van Rusland om de rebellen te laten vertrekken naar Idlib, een opstandelingenenclave in het noorden van Syrie, is afgeketst. De rebellen verkiezen een ‘gedoemd gevecht om de Oost-Ghouta te verdedigen’, stelt voormalig Amerikaans Syrië-ambassadeur Robert Ford in een interview met het Carnegie Middle East Center. ‘Overgave zou in elk geval de levens van sommige burgers redden.’



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