For­eign fight­ers get their ‘ter­mi­na­tion’ let­ters in Syria

As cadres emerge in place of ISIS, civil­ians are push­ing back against the pres­ence of mil­i­tants with a poster cam­paign

The National - News - - NEWS WORLD - GARETH BROWNE

A group of civil­ian ac­tivists in north Syria have launched a strik­ing cam­paign against for­eign fight­ers in an ef­fort to counter their grow­ing in­flu­ence in rebel-held ar­eas.

Samir Man­sour, an ac­tivist in­volved in the cre­ation and dis­tri­bu­tion of the posters, spoke to The Na­tional us­ing a pseu­do­nym, ex­plain­ing the think­ing be­hind them.

“We are show­ing that these for­eign fight­ers are not wel­come in Syria, and they have been the main rea­son be­hind the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity’s at­tacks on these ar­eas.

“We don’t want them to go home, we just want them to stop work­ing with ter­ror­ist groups. I don’t think they can go home,” he said.

The group’s first tar­get was a Bri­tish fighter known as Abu Yusuf Al Bri­tani, whose real name is be­lieved to be Dim­itry Ka­plan.

Over the past few weeks, posters adorned with his mugshot have ap­peared in cities across Idlib prov­ince, in­clud­ing Ma’arat Al Nu­man, Saraqib and Idlib city it­self.

The posters al­lege Al Bri­tani has also been re­spon­si­ble for polic­ing in­ter­net cafes in rebel-held Syria, un­der Hayat Tahrir Al Sham’s (HTS) in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian regime.

Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials be­lieve the Bri­ton has links to ISIS, and has pre­vi­ously served as head of HTS’s Istish­hadi, or mar­tyr­dom, op­er­a­tions.

A sign of his im­por­tance is his four-per­son body­guard de­tail, se­cu­rity of­fi­cials told The Na­tional.

Mr Man­sour said that the posters, which are ti­tled “ter­mi­na­tion of con­tract”, are part of a wider civic re­jec­tion of the for­eign fight­ers in some of north Syria’s most hard­line groups.

“Peo­ple are sick of for­eign com­man­ders’ con­stant in­ter­ven­ing in lo­cal dis­putes”, Mr Man­sour said.

A re­port last year by the So­ufan Cen­tre es­ti­mated that as many as 40,000 for­eign fight­ers en­tered Syria from more than 110 coun­tries. Many joined ISIS, but sig­nif­i­cant co­horts were also at­tracted to Al Qaeda-linked groups such as HTS and Haras Al Deen, both of which re­tain a sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence in north Syria.

De­spite ISIS’s loss of Raqqa, and the vast ma­jor­ity of its ter­ri­tory, for­eign fight­ers con­tinue to play key roles in other groups.

The posters are not the first ex­am­ple of Idlib’s civil­ian pop­u­la­tion push­ing back against these for­eign fight­ers. Last Wed­nes­day, civil­ians protested against a group of Uzbek fight­ers who were at­tempt­ing to es­tab­lish a head­quar­ters in a civil­ian build­ing in cen­tral Idlib, out of fears the build­ing would be tar­geted by air strikes.

“When they are seek­ing refuge in civil­ian ar­eas, they are en­dan­ger­ing Syr­ian lives,” Mr Man­sour said.

The cam­paign is not with­out risk. Mr Man­sour is aware that if caught he could face ar­rest, tor­ture – even ex­e­cu­tion – but the threat does not stop him.

“There is no big­ger threat at the mo­ment than that posed by HTS, Daesh – who have come back to the area, and An­sar Al Deen – all of them have for­eign fight­ers with them. In­stead of one threat, we have three.

“The regime is a threat on the front lines, but in our ar­eas, it’s the for­eign fight­ers.

“Here, they are the real threat – that’s why we are fight­ing back.”

A se­cu­rity source told The Na­tional that the cam­paign “high­lights the real at­ti­tude that many Syr­i­ans – whether in the op­po­si­tion or HTS or Daesh – have to­wards these out­siders.

“They’re un­wel­come, and the ma­jor­ity of Syr­i­ans have never re­ally wel­comed them. For­eign fight­ers there­fore have of­ten formed cadres within their own groups and re­mained iso­lated from the lo­cals. This has sim­ply ac­cen­tu­ated the dif­fer­ences be­tween them and the lo­cals.”

The regime is a threat on the front lines, but in our ar­eas, it’s the for­eign fight­ers ... that’s why we are fight­ing back SAMIR MAN­SOUR Ac­tivist, Idlib prov­ince, Syria

Samir Man­sour for The Na­tional

This ‘wanted’ poster in Idlib fea­tures the face of fighter Abu Yusuf Al Bri­tani, warn­ing he is not wel­come

The ac­tivists have pa­pered the posters across Idlib prov­ince

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