Why are the westerners fighting jihad always British? Never mind, I think we
already know the answer to that question.
British convert to Islam vows to fight to the death on Syrian rebel front
A British Muslim convert from east London is fighting on the front line of
the battle for Aleppo after joining rebels in their struggle against Bashar
The jihadist, who lived in Walthamstow, has joined an Islamist brigade as it
fights for control of Syria's second city.
While he refused to give his real name, he agreed to speak to The Daily
Telegraph in a field hospital behind the front line in the contested Aleppo
suburb of Salaheddin. The Londoner, who called himself "Abu Yacoub" - father
of Jacob - is the first proven case of a Briton being where the fighting is
fiercest in Syria.
He was with an Iraqi friend, Hassan, who had received a minor bullet wound
in the leg, and was taking him to the field hospital for treatment.
He disclosed that he had converted to Islam five years ago and had arrived
in Syria earlier this year to join the revolutionary forces seeking to
overthrow President Assad.
"I will stay here until I die," he said. "I want to die in Syria. We must
all taste paradise, and when that happens is decided already."
As the sound of tank shells hitting the buildings of Salaheddin sounded out
in the background, Abu Yacoub agreed to speak a little about himself.
Clearly nervous at being discovered by a reporter, he spoke in an accent
that was a mixture of East London and a jokey version of gangster rap and
said he came from Walthamstow.
"The name I give might be a lie," he said, when calling himself Abu Yacoub.
"Everything I say might be a lie."
He mixed humour with smiling threats, feigning joy at meeting a fellow
Londoner with attempts to have reporters thrown out of the clinic. He began
to chat about Hackney and Walthamstow, but then suddenly stopped. He
appeared uninterested in the Olympics.
He and Hassan had been fighting with Ahrar al-Sham, "Free Men of Syria", the
biggest Islamist group in Aleppo. It is estimated to have 500 members.
By contrast, the Liwa al-Tawhid - Unity Brigade - which is leading the
battle and is made up largely of people from the towns and villages in the
north of the province, says it has up to 8,000 men, and makes up almost 80
per cent of the total force.
Abu Yacoub said he arrived in Syria four months ago. "I came to help the
people here," he said.
"Allah knows," he said, when asked whether he was married, and other details
of his personal life. But he said that his mother, although she was
Christian, knew where he was and what he was doing and was "cool" with it.
"She is a good woman," he said.
The Daily Telegraph has since learnt that he was born in Tanzania but came
to Britain as a child.
He refused to allow himself to be photographed, adding with a laugh: "If you
take a photograph maybe it's very bad for your reputation. Maybe you will
Members of Ahrar al-Sham are largely followers of Salafi Islam, the
conservative, but not necessarily violent, version followed in Saudi Arabia.
It is less feared than Jubhat al-Nusra, which is said to be allied to
al-Qaeda and which announced its existence this year with a claim of
responsibility for a number of bombing attacks on regime targets.
Despite concerns in the West and among their own ranks, rebel leaders say
they accept help from Islamist groups and foreigners, and will deal with the
However, even within the radical Islamist brigades, foreign fighters are a
small minority and mostly from Arab countries, including Lebanon, Libya,
Tunisia and Morocco,
Abdulrahman al-Salameh, a Jubhat al-Nusra leader in Aleppo, said his ranks
contained foreign fighters and Syrian fighters who had fought the Americans
in Iraq, a particular concern for the West because of that cause's takeover
by al-Qaeda. But he also said he knew of British fighters in other brigades.
John Cantlie, a freelance journalist who was kidnapped briefly by a group of
international jihadists who seized the Bab al-Hawa border crossing last
month, said some of his captors had British accents.
The role of foreign fighters is hotly disputed in rebel ranks. One story -
possibly apocryphal - is that two Indian Muslim jihadists who arrived in
Homs saying they wanted to die for Allah were immediately sent by secular
FSA leaders to attack one of the toughest checkpoints in the city. The
checkpoint was destroyed and the two men were killed, which meant, said the
secular activist who told the story, that everyone was happy.
But many media activists and rebels fear they are a liability, adding little
to the cause and attracting suspicion among potential backers in the West.
Watching "Abu Yacoub" and Hassan return laughing to the front, one Syrian
fighter at the hospital snarled. "Why have they come here?" he said. "We don't
need them. They come for jihad but some of them are extremists and here in
Syria we are not extremists."