jeudi 19 juin 2014

Foreign Fighters, Rebel Side, in Syria. 14/Saudis

In Syria, the Saudi contingent is distinguished by the fact that it provides a number of leaders of armed groups and many candidates for kamikazes attacks1. Last December, we saw a young man of 17, Mouaz al-Maataq, who arrived in Syria. Abdul Aziz al-Othman was probably one of the first Saudis to land on the battlefield. It is part of the leadership of al-Nosra and he died in al-Shaddadi in the province of Hasakah, with another Saudi, Omar al-Mouhaisini, apparently in a car accident. We know he was close to Golani, the head of al-Nosra. Presumably the Saudis veterans of al Qaeda or Afghanistan established the first cells in Syria. Abu Khalid as-Suri, an important figure of jihadism, have participated in the formation of the first Islamic battalion ; we know that later Zawahiri has chosen him as an arbitrator in the dispute between al-Nosra and ISIS. Souri obviously played an important role, from May 2011, in the formation of the movement that became Ahrar al-Sham, today one of the most powerful group of Islamic Front; Saudis joined rather then al-Nosra.


Suri was killed February 23, 2014 in a suicide bombing near Aleppo, attributed to ISIS. His real name was Mohammed al-Bahaiya, he was born in 1963 in Aleppo. Before the Syrian conflict, he was best known for being close to Abu Musab al-Suri, another Aleppin. The two men had left Syria after the crushing of the revolt of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1982 by Hafez al-Assad. They had contributed to the creation of media and training camps in Afghanistan in the 1990's. They were close to bin Laden and but are also distinguished occasionally in supporting Mullah Omar and declaring in 1999 to not be members of al-Qaeda. By personal and remittances contacts, yet they are linked to terrorist attacks in Madrid in March 2004. Abu Musab is taken by the Pakistanis and Americans in 2005 and ends in Syrian jails, perhaps accompanied by Abu Khalid. In May 2013, however, it is the latter that Zawahiri chose as his emissary to settle the dispute between the nascent ISIS and al-Nosra2. Abu Khalid was then part of the leadership of the Ahrar al-Sham group, one of the most powerful of the Syrian uprising, now part of the Islamic Front, which is composed of many Salafi imprisoned before the revolution in central Sednaya prison north of Damascus, including those having fought in Iraq. There are even framed in Ahrar al-Sham veterans of the failed uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood against the Syrian regime between 1979 and 1982, including his fighter wing, the Fighting Vanguard, as Abu Khalid. The involvement of the latter in Ahrar al-Sham shows especially links that may arise between a "local"armed group and members of the "global" jihad as Abu Khalid3.

It is also known that Sheikh Abdel Wahed, "Hawk of the Jihad" is one of the first Afghan veterans arrived in Syria after the outbreak of the insurrection. Set in the mountains of Latakia, he founded the Suqur al-Izz al-Makki al-Bawardi group, which quickly attracted major figures of the Afghan jihad, Abdel Malak al-Ihsa'i (Abu Leen), Zaid (Abu Ammar) and Abu Muhammad al-Halabi, men of the first generation who have spent 25 years fighting-from Afghanistan to Iraq through Bosnia and Chechnya and who all perished in Syria. Suqur al-Izz also had the task of hosting migrants from the Turkish border before they are divided into battalions. Suqur al-Izz, down funding from the Gulf in particular, preferred rallied al-Nosra January 13, 2014, ten days after the outbreak of fighting against ISIS. The group, which operates in the province of Latakia, participated in the offensive against Kessab from March 21, 2014 ; it now appears more like a front screen for al-Nosra and al-Qaeda, in the same way that the Harakat al-Sham group in the same region, which is itself composed of Moroccans4. Najmeddine Azad, who had fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan, is also coming to Syria despite his leg, as Fayez al-Mitab, which hosted bin Laden in his home in Saudi Arabia. Convoys of Saudi jihadists have become even more important with the creation of al-Nosra and the use of suicide attacks. Abdul Hakim al-Muwahad, yet forbidden of travel by Saudi authorities, also left to Syria, where he became the coordinator to attract Saudis to wage jihad and let them cross the border, avoiding security services.

Le drapeau du groupe Suqur al-Izz.-Source :

Ayad al-Shahrani, un martyr saoudien de Suqur al-Izz.-Source :

This is not the first jihadist banned by the Saudi authorities who left to Syria. Abdullah bin al-Otaibi, Qaed Badr bin Ajab Mqati, al-Abdulla al-Sudairi, Uqab Mamdouh Marzouki, have also, as dozens more, all left by Riyadh airport as they say on Twitter. Sibaie was killed in August 2013 in Jobar near Damascus, but his brother Suleiman joined the jihad, he had lent his passport and papers to his brother, proof that he was able to get new ones. The amazing thing is that the Saudis who are protesting against the regime in Saudi Arabia or participating in sit-in for the release of political prisoners now join the jihad in Syria. Often, moreover, it was after they was arrested and detained and released only after two or three weeks these opponents leave to this new land of jihad. Without combat experience, many are killed quickly, as Mohammed al-Taleq who died only five days after his arrival. We also know that some jihadists returned temporarily in Saudi Arabia for short "vacation", before returning to Syria. Since autumn 2013, the recruitment is obviously no more limited to disadvantaged classes but also relates to the middle class and even the stratum just below the Saudi princes. Many preachers arrived in Syria, and even army officers or their parents. Nayef al-Shammari, a commander of the Saudi Border Guard, was killed in Deir Attiyeh in December 2013. Motlaq al-Motlaq is killed in Aleppo, he was the son of General Abdullah al-Sudairi Motlaq, the officers center's director. He supported the jihad since 2012 by collecting funds. His uncle, the brother of the general, is part of the leadership of jihadist groups in Syria.

Nayef al-Shammari.-Source :

For Meir Amit Center, in his study of foreign fighters from the insurgency in the Arab world in early 2014, the Saudis are one of the largest groups, with nearly a thousand men in Syria, a figure confirmed by the authorities last February5. Most serve in al-Nosra or ISIS. In June 2013, the bodies of 70 Saudis, including three women, killed in Syria, were repatriated to Saudi Arabia. An unofficial site has so far identified 223 Saudis killed in this land of jihad, which gives an idea of the commitment of this population in the Syrian conflict, into rebel side. Most come from Turkey to Syria after shipped by plane at the airport in Riyadh. Only a few come by terrestrial journey to the border of Jordan. Saudi fighters come from all over the kingdom, but the central region of Al-Qassim and its capital, Buraidah, excel. The demonstrations against the government were common in this region. Another area that provides volunteers is that of Al-Jawf, close to the Jordanian border. The number of veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq is incomparably smaller than the mass of volunteers with no military experience. Moreover, many Saudis are used by al-Nosra or ISIS for kamikaze attacks. Suleiman Subai'i Saud, a Saudi fighter, 25, was part of ISIS, he was arrested upon his return to Saudi Arabia. He then reflected on television March 5th, 2014 : according to him, most executives are Iraqis or Saudis in ISIS. He refused several times to record a video to call for the Saudis to join the Syrian jihad. In addition, he said that the Saudis are fighting in the front line. There are at least 11 Saudis who carried out suicide bombings there in 2013.

Saudi Arabia supported armed groups in Syria from the label "Free Syrian Army" or Islamist groups among the Syrian uprising. Behind the Assad regime is especially Iran, the largest regional rival, which is covered by Saudi Arabia. However, Saudi fighters veterans from Syrian jihad may well pose a threat to the kingdom, as were those returning from Afghanistan in the 1990's. Early May 2014, the security services have dismantled a network and preparing attacks, in conjunction with ISIS and jihadists in Yemen. Saudi authorities are aware of the problem as early as spring 2013, but accelerate measures to the end of 2013 and in the first months of 2014. In December 2013, a new anti-terrorism law is adopted, then, February 3, 2014, a royal decree prohibits the Saudis to fight in foreign wars, and calls those who have already left to return to their country.

Aaron Zelin, author of a recent article about the Saudi contingent, says jihad in Syria differs significantly, for example, that in Afghanistan against the Soviets, as it includes almost exclusively fighters6. The Saudis made up the bulk of the foreign contingent in Afghanistan and Chechnya, to a lesser extent in Bosnia. In Iraq from June 2003 to June 2005, a study also points out that the Saudis constitute 55% of foreign fighters ... followed by the Syrians. Document capture from al-Qaida in Iraq again shows that the Saudis are more than 40% of foreigners between August 2006 and August 2007. Aaron Zelin has counted at least 300 fatalities Saudi Syria since the beginning conflict to late February 2014, one of the highest figures for foreign fighters. So there would be at least 600 Saudis in Syria and Iraq, since ISIS straddles the two states. The strong presence of the Saudis is proven since 2013. Initially, it was mainly combatants neighboring countries, veterans of fighting in Iraq against the Americans, who left to Syria (Lebanese, Jordanians, Iraqis). In 2012, we especially note the importance of Libyans and Tunisians, two countries that have completed their revolution and chased dictatorial regimes. For Aaron Zelin, the influx of Saudis from spring 2013 is caused by the massive intervention of Hezbollah to support the Syrian regime, which in turn causes calls to jihad in Saudi Arabia, such as the cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Of the 300 killed Saudis we can draw a little more detailed portrait from 203 cases. Recruitment affects the whole country since a single region of 13 is not shown. Many Saudis are famous among the contingent. Abd Allah bin Muhammad bin Sulayman al-Muhaysini, a Sunni cleric, followed the teachings of a religious arrested by the Saudi authorities in 2004 for supporting al-Qaeda. He provided arms, funds the insurgency and assistance to Syrian refugees. He went to Syria in 2013 and has been seen in the company of members of the al-Nosra and Omar al-Shishani, who runs a group of Chechens and then joined ISIS. Since January 2014 and the battle between al-Nosra and ISIS, he distanced himself from the latter group. In March, he established the training camp called al-Farouq, a nod to the camp of the same name in Afghanistan's Talibans before September 11. Abd al-Muhsin Abd Allah Ibrahim al-Sharikh, who died in Syria March 21, 2014, a veteran of jihad from Afghanistan, third cousin of Bin Laden, with two of his brothers who went through Guantanmo, was a member of the "Committee for the Victory." Before reaching Syria, he was in the Afghani-Pakistani border area. Since January 2014, he has not taken sides in the conflict al-Nosra/ISIS but we also know that it supports Ahrar al-Sham and al-Nosra.

1Abdullah Suleiman Ali, « Saudi jihadists flow into Syria », Al-Monitor, 8 décembre 2013.
5The Phenomenon of Foreign Fighters from the Arab World in the Syrian Civil War, Most of Them Fighting in the Ranks of Organizations Affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Global Jihad, The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, mai 2014.
6Aaron Y. Zelin, « The Saudi Foreign Fighter Presence in Syria », CTC Sentinel, avril 2014 Vol 7. Issue 4, p.10-14.

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