Thursday, 23 August 2012
Walking through the streets of Antakya, the two British teenagers look like any other holidaymakers enjoying the Turkish sun. But only a few days ago they were fighting alongside rebels in Syria’s increasingly bloody civil war.

“We felt very strongly that we should join the fight, that this was something we just had to do,” said Abu Musef, who asked The Times not to use his real name to protect his family. “Inside Syria, you got bombs dropping on you like rain but you know you are doing the right thing because you’ve got little children in this situation next to you.”

How the two young men, both 19 and born in West London, travelled to the war-torn country and joined a rebel unit fighting in Al-Rab, just outside Aleppo, is a story that would terrify their mothers. “It was our summer holiday,” said Abu Omar (also a pseudonym). “Our families just thought we were coming on holiday.”

The two, who have been lifelong friends in London, said that it took them only minutes to reach the decision to travel to Syria and join the revolution. They told their parents that they were going to Istanbul.

Both are British citizens whose families moved from Syria before they were born. “I had gotten into a fight with my boss at the garage where I worked as a mechanic. I knew I didn’t have work there any more, and then we spoke a few hours later and made the decision right quick,” Abu Musef said.

His friend nodded in agreement. “It took no thought — it was obvious.”

They said that the violence in Syria and the uprisings taking place across the Arab world were a frequent subject of debate in their homes. Syrian expatriates in Britain were “shocked and devastated” by what was happening in their homeland, Abu Omar said. “It’s all anyone can talk about,” he said.

It is unclear how many “foreign fighters” have joined the Syrian rebellion against President Assad. Fighters who had recently left Syria said that it wasn’t that unusual to hear a smattering of British-accented English among the fighters — though they put their numbers at fewer then a dozen.

Some of those who have joined have done so after a conversion to strict Islam, according to Abu Hitmet, a commander in the Free Syrian Army. Others, like Abu Musef and Abu Omar, said they had believed in the “spirit” of the revolution.

“It just felt like a cause that we could believe in. Because you know in London people don’t really care about things,” Abu Omar said. “In Syria we aren’t fighting for flash cars or big homes. We are fighting for freedom, because that’s how we are going down.”

Once they arrived in Turkey they started to develop contacts with activists in the Syrian rebellion and travelled to Antakya, the southern Turkish city near the Syrian border.

Abu Musef, who visited Syria three years ago, knew relatives who were active in the rebellion who could help him to get into one of the fighting units affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. “We met up with them and agreed to go in,” he said. “They gave us a bit of training.” That training involved “a couple of minutes on how to shoot the guns”, and “how to dodge a bullet”.

Abu Omar said: “I don’t want to boast, but we were naturals.”

Inside Syria, they found themselves in the midst of heated battles, as the regime and the rebels fought for control over the key city of Aleppo. “A missile landed just some dozen metres away from us, but we were lucky. There were missiles and plane airstrikes and it was all hectic,” Abu Omar said.

Much of their time was spent delivering supplies and acting as go-betweens with the rebels and with civilians stuck in enclaves inside Aleppo.

“We heard horrible stuff about rape and torture,” Abu Omar said. “We understood how no matter what we needed to defeat Assad and free these people from him. Whatever the rebellion will ask of us we’ll do.”

For now, they said, the rebellion needed them to travel back to London to garner support and funds for the revolution. “They said we could do more from the outside,” Abu Musef said.

He said that the two had already arranged to speak to activists and fundraisers and continue their efforts from Britain. In addition, they said, they were ready to return to university.

“I don’t have any regrets, it changed me completely,” Abu Musef said. “If I met another London boy who wanted to go I would ask like this: Is your Arabic good? Do you have enough money to pay your way there? And, do you believe in the cause? If he said yes to all of that I’d tell him to go.”
Source: The Times (£)


Anonymous said...

How the two young men, both 19 and born in West London, travelled to the war-torn country and joined a rebel unit fighting in Al-Rab, just outside Aleppo, is a story that would terrify their mothers.

Are you kidding? Their families are proud of them.

Anonymous said...

DP111 wrote..

Keep in mind that Syria is the only country in the ME, where all religions are able to practice their faith publicly, and without fear. What the West, with America in the lead, has done is to destabilise Syria.

If Assad falls, then the last refuge for minorities, particularly Christians, will have been destroyed. Syria graciously accepted hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians cleansed out from Iraq, after our "liberation" of that country. Where will they go now? The UK does not accept Christians facing genuine persecution - only fake Muslim asylum seekers are granted that privilege.

Only recently I noticed, that the Syrian flag had two stars - no Crescent, ie Syria was a secular state. If America/Saudis succeed, then the Crescent, or even the Black flag will fly from Damascus.

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