Written by L. Barkan
There are currently many foreigners fighting in Syria, which is a source of concern for Western countries. While the Western and Arab media often mention the presence of numerous foreign fighters in Syria, there are few reports that give details about the fighters themselves, even on the jihadi websites and social networks. A source that does, however, provide some information is a Facebook page called "The Foreigners in the Syrian Revolution," which is devoted to documenting these fighters, especially those who have been "martyred," and which sheds light on the identities and motives of foreigners who come to fight in Syria.
The page, launched January 2012, initially reported mainly on the operations of Jabhat Al-Nusra, the most active jihadi organization in Syria, which was founded that month and which recently admitted its affiliation with Al-Qaeda. In the summer of 2012 it began focusing on the foreign fighters, which could indicate ties between these foreigners and Jabhat Al-Nusra.
In its early months, the page included only sporadic reports about the foreigners, but since late 2012 dozens of new reports on fighters have been added – sometimes several in a single day. Some of the reports are current, and some deal with fighters killed days or weeks before.
The page publishes photos of the fighters and details about them, as well as videos that document their activity and/or their death. Recently, the page published a series of more detailed biographies of foreigners who were killed in the fighting. The author of the stories, Ghulam Yousuf, expressed hope that they would eventually be collected in a booklet.
The documented foreigners are mostly Arabs and mostly come from Libya, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent from Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Morocco, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, and Turkey. Some of them have spent time in Western countries for studies or work, and others are Western-born Muslims or Muslim converts. In addition, the page documents several fighters who came to Syria from the Caucasus arena, and even two from China.
The page features a video titled "Foreigners of different nationalities, bound together by Islam and jihad in Al-Sham [Syria]." The footage is accompanied by a song written by "Al-Muhannad Al-Shami" dedicated to the fighters who heeded the call of Jabhat Al-Nusra commander Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani and came to Syria from Arab and Islamic countries, as well as from Chechnya, the Balkans, Albania, and Australia.
There is also a compilation of 32 portraits of foreign fighters killed in Syria, each with his name and the country he came from.
The issue of foreigners fighting in Syria is a controversial one in the Muslim world, even among the Salafi-jihadi stream. The administrators of the Facebook page, who obviously support this phenomenon, posted a message encouraging young Muslims to join the jihad in Syria and elsewhere even without the consent of their parents, on the grounds that this is a personal duty incumbent upon every Muslim: "To every young man who wishes to join the jihad in Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, etc., and is hindered by those who claim that this requires the consent of one's parents, I say [that] there is a consensus among the imams of the four [Muslim] schools, and [also among] other [imams], that jihad today is a personal obligation [fard 'ayn] of every Muslim, just like [the obligation of] prayer. When a country is occupied and an enemy is attacking the Muslims, jihad [in that country] is considered defensive [daf'] jihad rather than voluntary [talab] jihad. Performing a personal duty does not require [anybody's] consent…"
As mentioned, the Facebook page sheds light on the foreigners fighting in Syria and on their personal stories and motivations. This report reviews some of these stories:
The page documents several Libyans who were living and/or studying in the West but came to join the jihad in Syria and were killed there. For example, Ahmad Samir Al-Taraiki left his studies in Canada; Muhammad Abu Kara' left his studies in the U.S. and was killed in Aleppo; Muhammad Juhaider left his studies in Britain and was killed in the Damascus area; and Adam Samir Wali came to Syria from Sweden. The page mentions another individual who came to Syria from Sweden: Muhammad 'Ali Abu Hamour, who was killed on April 15, 2013. According to another Facebook page of Jabhat Al-Nusra supporters called "The Heart Of Islam Is Bilad Al Sham," he fought in the ranks of Jabhat Al-Nusra.
Among the martyrs featured in the portrait compilation (see above) is an Egyptian, Hudhaifa 'Abd Al-Basit, who, according to other websites, was a member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and was studying in Ireland. A Palestinian youth from Ramallah, Faisal 'Izz Al-Din, who was training in the U.S. to be a nurse, came to Syria to extend medical and humanitarian assistance to the Syrian wounded and refugees, and was killed on January 4, 2013.
The page also reported the death of Yusuf Toprakayya, aka Abu Al-Walid Al-Ustrali, an Australian of Turkish origin, who "left his wife and his job in Melbourne and joined the jihad for the sake of Allah in its early days."
Another story is that of 'Abd Al-Malik Adam, a Dane who converted to Islam 11 years ago, and, prompted by "the infidels' persecution of him and his family," left Denmark and lived in various Muslim countries until finally settling in Libya. Later he left his wife and four children to go fight in Syria, and was killed there on March 3, 2013. The site states that he had previously waged jihad in Yemen alongside "Sheikh Ayman Al-Awlaki" (presumably a mistake, referring to Al-Qaeda sheikh Anwar Al-'Awlaki who was killed in 2011).
On August 27, 2012, the page reported that "Hussam Al-Sham," a French national of Lebanese origin, had been killed on the Syria-Lebanon border in a shelling by the Syrian regime.
The page presented statements by a man called Fadi Yassin, aka Abu Al-Fida, who said about Hussam: "The brother was known for supporting jihad and the mujahideen through media activity, and also focused on rescue missions, utilizing his ties with rescue and charity organizations. He had a great love of martyrdom and strove to achieve it on more than one [jihad front], and [eventually] attained what he had set out to [attain]."According to a posting by Fadi Yassin on the Jazeera Talk website, Hussam was born in France and lived there until the age of 11.
Subsequently he and his family left France and lived in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. As a young man he traveled to Afghanistan to train for the jihad in Chechnya, but was wounded and left the country. In recent years he lived in Lebanon, from where he started to extend aid to the Syrian rebels.
He entered Syria several times, and claimed to have been involved in getting Osama bin Laden's family safely out of Latakiya. He encouraged fighters of the Syrian opposition to adhere to Islam, and enjoined devout Muslims to join the Free Syrian Army so as not to leave it in the hands of the secularists. Eventually he joined the fighting himself, and was killed.
French national of Lebanese origin "Hussam Al-Sham"
Another Lebanese who has been killed is Osama Rajeh 'Abbas Tartousi, Lebanon's kickboxing champion, who lived in Australia.
Lebanese kickboxing champion Osama Rajeh 'Abbas Tartousi
Also mentioned on the page is Sammy Salma of Melbourne, Australia, who was killed in Syria on April 17, 2013. The "The Heart Of Islam Is Bilad Al Sham" Facebook page (which is in English) adds that he came to Syria in 2012 and was killed in Aleppo in "an explosion conducted by the Syrian forces," while engaged in humanitarian work.
Two more individuals documented on the page are Frenchman Raphael Gendron (also known as 'Abd Al-Rauf and Abu Marwa), who converted to Islam in his youth and was killed in Homs on April 14, 2013 while fighting in the ranks of the Suqour Al-Sham Brigade, and a man called "Abu Adam Al-Mughrabi," a North African Muslim who worked in Spain and was killed in Aleppo. According to the story on the Facebook page, he had a heart condition and did not want to die in Spain "among the Christians," so he joined the mujahideen in Syria and was eventually shot by a sniper. The page features a link to a video in which Al-Muhgrabi delivers an impassioned speech about the foreign Muslims who come to fight in Syria.
A video posted on the page tells the story of "Abu Kamal of Sweden," a Muslim who was born and grew up in that country. According to the video, he first joined the Free Syrian Army but was displeased by the fact that its members smoked, listened to music, and did not pray, so he joined the Al-Muhajiroun (Immigrants) Brigade instead, where he felt at home. He was killed in Aleppo on January 25, 2013, at age 22, and his mother – who had originally objected to his going to Syria – was glad that he was buried in the land of jihad. Another fighter listed is 16-year-old Shams Al-Din Ibrahim Ghaidhan, of Libyan origin, who lived in Dublin, Ireland and was killed on February 23, 2013.
The page even mentions two Chinese nationals who came to fight in Syria. One of them, referred to as "the mujahid Yousuf," converted to Islam in China and then traveled to Libya to learn Arabic there. When the Libyan revolution broke out he joined the rebels, and after the fall of the Qadhafi regime he went to Syria to join the mujahideen there.
The second Chinese national appears in a video titled "Chinese Mujahid in Syria Praying before an Attack."
Among the foreigners fighting in Syria are also many fighters from the former Soviet Union, including some who have fought in Chechnya. The latter have formed their own unit, the Chechen Muhajiroun (Immigrants) Brigade, headed by "Abu 'Omar Al-Shishani" ("Abu 'Omar of Chechnya"). According to reports, the brigade even received a visit from the so called "Emir of the Caucasus," Dokka Umarov, who arrived in Syria.
The Facebook page documents some of the Chechen fighters. For example, there is a video about a man called "Abu Maria Al-Shishani," and information about another known as Daoud Halulaev or 'Abdallah Al-Shishani. According to the Facebook page, he fought in the Soviet army and subsequently spent time in jail. In 2000 he joined the mujahideen, and was later jailed again, only to rejoin the jihad upon his release. In Syria he served as "the military commander of a group of mujahideen and planned an attack on the Nusairi [i.e., 'Alawite] infidels, but was hit and killed before he could carry it out."
The page reports on the first fighter from Kosovo to be killed in Syria: Na'man Demolli, who belonged to Jabhat Al-Nusra and was killed on November 11, 2012, and also on a man called "'Ali Al-Rousi" ["'Ali of Russia"] who was killed on February 17, 2013.
*L. Barkan is a research fellow at MEMRI.
© The Middle East Media Research Institute All Rights Reserved
 MEMRI has reported on several such fighters, among them a former soldier in the U.S. military who documented his stay in Syria and was arrested upon his return to the U.S. See MEMRI JTTM No. 5256, The Facebook Page Of Eric Harroun, Former U.S. Soldiers Arrested March 26 In VA For Fighting In Syria, March 29, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 15, 2013. For the video, see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UueLcwseAXs
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, January 14, 2013.
 In early 2012, Sheikh Abu Basir Al-Tarousi, a leading ideologue of the Salafi-jihadi stream, spoke out against the phenomenon, calling upon the Muslims to make do with sending arms and funds to the Free Syrian Army, and sending doctors to help the wounded. On the debate within the Salafi-jihadi stream, see MEMRI JTTM report no. 4522, Spat between Senior Jihadi Cleric Abu Basir Al-Tartousi and Online Jihadis over Free Syrian Army, February 26, 2012.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, September 10, 2012.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 15, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 4, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 19, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 30, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 18, 2013.
Facebook.com/AlShamAgainstTheWorld?hc_location=timeline, April 19, 2013.
 Dakahliaikhwan.com, December 20, 2012.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 15, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, February 22, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 6, 2013. For details about the death of 'Abd Al-Malik Adam, see MEMRI JTTM report no. 6588, Jihadi From Denmark Killed In Syria, March 6, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, August 27, 2012.
 The Jazeera Talk report was quoted on the jihadi website As-ansar.com, July 29, 2012.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 21, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 20, 2013.
 Facebook.com/AlShamAgainstTheWorld?hc_location=timeline, April 18, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 16, 2013. For a MEMRI report on him, see MEMRI JTTM report no. 6655, Jihadis Commemorate French Islamist Killed In Syria, April 17, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 8, 2013. For a link to the video, as well as further details on Al-Muhgrabi see MEMRI JTTM report no. 6366, Muslim From Spain Killed In Syria, April 8, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 12, 2013. For the video, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=IAZIigahE8k .
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, April 9, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 17, 2013. For a video of an interview with him, in which he warns the Chinese government to stop supporting the Syrian regime, see MEMRI TV clip no. 3772, Chinese Foreign Fighter in Syria Warns China Government: Arabs and Muslims Will Fight Your Economy, March 17, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 26, 2013. For the video, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=DHSlym4qAzQ.
 For a video of Abu Omar Al-Shishani, see MEMRI JTTM report no. 6555, Chechen Commander Arrives In Syria With Group Of Muhajireen, Appeals To Muslims For Money, Support, February 22, 2013. For a general review of Chechen participation in the war in Syria, including reports from the field, see MEMRI JTTM report no. 5040, Chechens Involved In Fighting In Syria, November 5, 2012.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 22, 2013.
 For the video, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=y9102kE-bNk.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, March 8, 2013. For further details on him, including testimony that he established a training camp for mujahideen in northern Syria, as well as images from a video about him, see MEMRI JTTM report no. 6564, Syrian Group Liwa Al-Mujahideen Releases Video Commemorating Chechen Instructor Killed In Syria, February 26, 2013.
 Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, December 20, 2012.
<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]--> Facebook.com/Strangers.sy, February 19, 2013.