Friday, November 2, 2012

Salafis in Syria: "'They will demand that we return to the seventh century'"

[Guardian] " In early summer, Abu Ismael, a six-year veteran of al-Qaida, left the insurgency still blazing in his homeland of Iraq and travelled to what he believes is the start of the apocalypse....
"It was easy," he said, in the sitting room of a house in the Syrian city of Aleppo. "The money was no problem, neither was the weapon, or the motivation. This will be a fight against the great enemy."....
"When the regime falls, all those who fought against the Muslims will be my enemy, especially the Shias," he said, reiterating a view held by some Sunni extremists that Shia are their biggest foes....
"We want just what they got in Tunis and Egypt," said Mahmoud Razak, a shop-keeper in the outer suburbs. "Freedom and the chance to progress in life. But we thought it would take 19 days like it took [in Egypt]. It's now 19 months. We didn't know it would be this difficult."
To those now hosting Abu Ismael, the Iraqi jihadi embodies one of the major problems. Though for the most part conservative and pious, the men of this part of Aleppo refuse to see the crisis now consuming Syria in existential terms. To them, this is still a fight for self-determination, not the forum for an apocalyptic showdown with a preordained foe.
"What is this global jihad that he talks about?" asked a town elder, Abu Abdullah, after the Iraqi had left to prepare for his wedding. "We will be used as toys by them, just as the Sunni communities were in Iraq. When they have had their way with us they will demand that we return to the seventh century under the blade of a sword."
Bashar al-Assad has insisted from the start that Syria was facing attack by "armed terrorist gangs", not a popular uprising – though there is ample evidence of the army firing on mostly unarmed demonstrators. But it has become clear that extremist Salafi or jihadi groups, some linked to al-Qaida, are now a significant element of the armed opposition.
Alongside fighters from al-Qaida in Iraq or Fatah al-Islam from Lebanon is the mysterious Jabhat al-Nusra, which has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo. It is sympathetic to al-Qaida. Others hail from Jordan, Libya and Algeria.
The overwhelming majority of jihadis are Syrian, with the number of foreigners ranging from 1,200 to 1,500 members..."

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