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Published on November 12th, 2014 | by EJC

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The Story Of Abu Hakam

By Alexandros Kampouris, Ioannis Seferiadis

(Warning: this article contains sensitive content)

“Before the revolution, the Syrian people suffered from Al-Assad regime. The beginning of the revolution was when Daraa kids were arrested by Al Assad regime. One of the kids in Daraa wrote on a wall “Doctor, (the president is a doctor), your turn is coming after Mubarak”. So, they punished all these kids by cutting their fingers… they were kids, not more than 13 years old. Some of the notables and Clerics of Daraa went with fathers of the kids to the Brigadier General Atef Najjeb, the son of the aunt of the president and the chief of the Political Intelligence in Daraa. They told him they were just kids and asked him not to punish them and they asked him to release them but in vain. He said  “forget your kids and if you don’t have any other, just send me your women and I will make them born new children”. So, Daraa was the beginning of the revolution. Damascus and Daraa were the first cities of the revolution. The first demonstration was in Damascus.

We wanted revolution just for people! For them… just for freedom and peace. In general before the revolution you couldn’t ask for your single rights. You couldn’t ask from Assad regime for your rights. You couldn’t. The revolution was to bring down Al Assad.

I come from Markada. Most of the people in our village, in the countryside of Al-Hasakah, were farmers working on the crops. The salary of the employer was high but that of the farmer very low.  Before the revolution the people in Daraa and Deir ez Zor were going to Daraa or Aleppo to work with their families, especially during summer. Daraa citizens looked down on Al Hasakah people; they treated them as second class citizens.

Starting fighting 

At the beginning of the revolution I was in Lebanon and I was questioned by Al Assad regime for military service, when revolution was in early stages. At 15th March (day 1 of the revolution) we came from Lebanon to Syria for my brother. He was studying Islamic rules, Sharia, in the university and he was arrested by Al-Assad regime because he is Imam. Many times the intelligence and the soldiers came to our house trying to arrest us. We are members of tribal families. Each one has a weapon; from an early age we know how to use guns. We all just started carrying our weapons and started fighting. At first, we were just a small group with light weapons. In the village all the people at first looked at us as terrorists.

Seven of us started fighting with just five Kalashnikovs, it was the strongest weapon we had. We had no dollars, we made tracks to steal cars and to attack some small armed groups from Al-Assad regime and take their weapons. That happened in Deir ez-Zor. We went from our village to Deir Ez-Zor to fight there. A small village was captured, taken by Free Syrian Army. At that moment the Military Council abroad provided the rebels with money and weapons. We started helping the people there by giving them money. So the people started to love us, then they joined just to fight with us. So, we merged with a group of soldiers under the name “Liwa Al Ahwaz”, Al Ahwaz Brigade. The first collection of 8 Battalions with 58 fighters. We had one vehicle, anti-airplane, anti-tank RPG weapons, three machine guns and each of us had a Kalashnikov.

Most of us (the younger ones) served in the military service for two years. We were trained for a battlefield. We started fighting in Deir ez-Zor because we were just a small group and we didn’t have heavy weapons against an armed group of the Al Assad regime. Deir ez-Zor was taken by the Free Syrian Army and the soldiers of Al-Assad regime were scared away from this village. After that, many groups of the Free Syrian Army started to form as militia groups under various names. We got our support from abroad. Kuweit, Turkey, Germany, Qatar… Rich people from abroad who left Deir ez Zor before the revolution helped us. This support came to all the cities of Syria…Deir ez Zor, Al Hamaka, Homs, all of them. All the fighters were given support and the door to Iraq was open in front of us.

Most of this support came from smugglers. Yes, of course smugglers, but not from the government of Iraq. There were many smugglers who gave us weapons and we gave them money. We just told them that we need this kind of weapon and this is your money. There were many people before the revolution who were smugglers. Sometimes they were arrested by Al Assad regime and gave a lot of money to leave the prison.

Medical care from Turkey

Most of the ambulances came from Turkey.  A lot of nurses, doctors (specialists) worked with us, with the Free Syrian Army. The Turkish government gave us anything we wanted. We could go to hospitals in Turkey. There was even a hospital run by Turkey in the border just for soldiers who were injured from the war. The hospitals were located in Gaziantep, in Kilis (on the Syrian-turkish border), sometimes the rebels were treated in schools and houses.  Many fighters who were injured went to Turkey and were taken care. We were going to the hospitals, got cured and then came back to fight.

In Ras Al Ayn line one of the fighters in our group took four bullets in his body. He wouldn’t make it to Deir ez-Zor, it was too far, he would be dead. So, we took him to Turkey and his life was saved. After months he called us, he was ok and told us to go to get him back to fight. Up to now he is fighting. But unfortunately this guy is with ISIS now.

Fight with…against Kurdish groups

There was a small group of Kurdish people who were fighting with us but as a group of their own. We discussed with them many times and had a meeting with them to fight with us but they refused it.  They said that you came to fight us in our places and you came here to kill us, to kill our kids, our women. These were their words. There was just a small number of Kurdish people who were fighting personally against PKK and Al Assad regime. Most of them started to join forces under PKK and YPG and fight with the Al Assad regime against the Free Syrian Army. From the beginning, Al Assad regime gave the Kurdish many kinds of weapons in their places and after that they left the places. Amuda, Derbazina, Ras Al Ain, Ayn Alarab …these are the Kurdish places. We went to Ras al-Ayn line to fight against the government forces but unfortunately there were PKK and YPG fighters of the Kurdish side fighting with the Assad regime. The Assad regime gave them the weapons and told them you have to fight against the Free Syrian Army and I will support you. In every battle against the Assad regime, the Assad regime gave the Kurdish people weapons and brought them in the first line to fight against us. We had many battles there in the Ras al-Ayn line against them. In one of the battles in Ras Al Ayn and Asfar Najjar we got from them missile base; very expensive weapon. After we captured these places an Iraqi person gave us four missiles. We had a colonel, he knew how to use these missiles. And we used them against the airport in Deir ez-Zor. So these four missiles helped the Free Syrian Army to get the airport. In the last one, we got it from PKK, YPG and Al Assad regime but we had many dead fighters, one of them was my brother. It was in 2012. After that we left Ras al-Ayn line. After that Al Nusra Front and Ahr al-Sham, who had strong weapons and strong fighters came to us, we couldn’t fight against them. These groups told us to leave Ras al Ayn for Deir ez Zor in the eastern places and they would stay in Ras al Ayin because it was very important. And we left for Deir ez-Zor on 17th September 2012.

After the last battles in five days we came back to Deir ez-Zor. And in all of the countryside of Deir ez-Zor there was no Assad regime at all. Only the center of the city and the airport of Deir ez-Zor was under their control. At this time there were some misunderstandings between the members of “Al Ahwaz”, the brigade we initially joined.

Divided

There were a lot of fighters joining this brigade.  More than 800 rebels were united under “Liwa Al Ahwaz” and many problems due to differences among the battalions occurred. Many different rebel groups merged under that brigade, and when they were running low on money, the head was not distributing it according to the rights of every battalion. Sometimes he was giving his relatives’ battalions more and less to the others. This brigade had 40 battalions and each battalion was related to a place. There were battalions from Markada and other places. We all merged under the name of the brigade “Al Ahwaz”. We decided to fight together in various places, to attack many enemy positions at the same time. But because of the hatred in the brigade, it was dissolved. After that we joined another coalition brigade under the name   “TaJamoua Kataib Al Haka Al Islamiya”, the “Islamic group fighting for truth”. We were 300 fighters, 14 battalions. We chose the city center and the airport of Deir ez Zor to fight there. In the city centers there were street fights and lots of snipers hidden in the buildings. We dug holes in the ground and used it as trenches.  Sometimes we needed more than twenty days to make not more than few meters. In the city center I can say 90% of the civilians left before the battle. The civilian who didn’t choose to leave, he was with revolution. We put underground bombs in buildings we were taking over and then blew them up in order to destroy the enemies. In one of the street fights, a sniper shot my legs. I was battalion commander there. I had to leave the battalion for three months because of the dangerous injury. After three months I started to use my legs and start walking. At 15th March 2013 I went back to Daraa to fight.

“I am your sister, I am with you”

abu_hakam_1

Abu Hakam

In one of the battles I was injured by a mortar on my back in Daraa. I was unconscious and lost a lot of blood. They took me, I don’t know where, but when I opened my eyes I saw a lot of women around me taking care of me. I was in a village in Daraa. There is a bridge, it was bombed and before I opened my eyes I thought I was captured by Al Assad regime. I just saw the women who were wearing the headscarf.  I saw only her eyes.  I tried to move myself but it was very hard for me. She helped me. I asked her where I was and she told me, “you are safe, in peace”. She moved the scarf from her face and she told me “I am your sister, we are jihadists and you should know you are safe”. I told her just to bring me a glass of water. I felt I am not safe there so when she left, I took my pistol which they had put it beside me with all my belongings. I was still thinking that I was arrested by someone. When she heard that I got my pistol, she came back and told me “I know you don’t believe me, but I am with you. If you want to kill me, kill me. I am here just to help you”. So, I told her if she wanted me to believe her, to call some fighters which I know. And she called someone and my friends came and told me where I am. They didn’t allow me to leave and told me that these nurses were looking after me and all those people were helping us. This was at 18-19 June of 2013. In Daraa they took care of all the fighters. They loved the fighters against Al Assad regime, supported and helped them in Daraa. They thought they were not fighters, they were angels who came to help them. Sometimes we walked on the street and they knew we were not from Daraa and they invited us to houses and gave us food. After that we started to fight in Al-Sanamayn. 20 days after the injury I became well and I started fighting.

“I am going to ISIS and come back to kill you”

At that time ISIS started fighting in the east area, against the Free Syrian Army. My friends in the eastern places called me, “you have to come back with your groups and we were going to fight at the airport of Deir ez-Zor. I told them that I would be coming back with my groups only to fight against the Assad regime or PKK, not ISIS, not Al Nusra Front…just against the Assad regime or PKK. I didn’t know anything about ISIS at first, so when I heard that people were fighting against ISIS I didn’t like it. I thought they were just a group of jihadists who want to help us.  I didn’t know them and I just heard about them from others. What we heard about ISIS was that they were very strong, very good to war, we didn’t know they cut heads, kill civilians, up to that time, we didn’t hear anything bad about ISIS.

So we came back to Deir ez- Zor at 2nd or 3rd February 2014. When we came to Deir ez-Zor, we discussed that we will fight only at the airport of Deir ez-Zor, not any place else. We came back with new heavier weapons. We started fighting against Assad in the airport of Deir ez-Zor on 15th March 2014. We started fighting there and after few days support came from Turkey to siege the airport…1.700.000 dollars. This money was just to take the airport from Assad regime. Colonel Sukur, Airport Operations Commander of Deir al-Zour and official military armament and External Relations, was with two sides. He gave 1 million to ISIS and 700.000 dollars to people around him. If the ISIS would come, so he would arm them, if not, he would arm my battalions.  After that, I chose not to fight. I decided to fight for ISIS with my battalions. I told him I will come back to kill you. I am going to ISIS and come back to kill you. I called someone in the ISIS and said “I want to fight with you, what should I do?”.  So they chose Ashadadi to have a meeting there. And we went five fighters. Each person represented a battalion.

When I went to Ashadadi, I saw something not good. Some heads were cut…That’s what I have seen. I asked Abu Maria al Iraqi, who was in charge of ISIS in Ashadadi, “why are you cutting heads, this is not Muslim, this is infidel”. Abu Maria al Iraqi, a military officer from Iraq, said “I have come to Levant, and I haven’t found any Muslim in all these places. So they said that all the people here are not Muslim and they had to be killed… all of them. That’s what happened in in the meeting. They said (members of ISIS) “Only the person who comes and fights with us is a true Muslim”.  From the beginning, they didn’t fight against the Assad regime or PKK. They fought against Free Syrian Army, Al Nusra Front and Ahr al-Sham. So after this meeting I thought that they are not coming to help us. We went five representatives there, three of them went with ISIS. So the ISIS leader asked me “what about you? You have to fight with us”. I told them I wanted to go and bring my fighters and to fight with you as a group, not as a person. I said that just to escape from them. These three persons who chose to fight with ISIS said “we are loyal to you, but not to fight Al Nusra Front or Ahr al-Sham, just against the Assad regime. ISIS said yes because at that time they wanted people to love them. But even if the people loved them, they didn’t do so because they are right, but because they were afraid of them.

After that meeting, I decided not to fight against the Assad regime, but against the ISIS. I went to the countryside of Deir ez-Zor, 40 km away from the city centre of Deir ez-Zor. We were fighting with other groups who were fighting against ISIS. The Al Nusra Front and the Ahr al-Sham groups were not big in numbers in Deir ez-Zor against ISIS at that time. In one of the battles we arrested three ISIS fighters, one of them from Aleppo, the other from Pakistan and the other from Raqqa. I asked the fighter from Pakistan “what are you doing here” and he said “I am fighting against the Free Syrian Army because all the Free Syrian Army is not Muslim”. I asked the fighters from Rakka and Aleppo why you are fighting us and they said the same. So, we told them to fight with us or to be killed” and they chose to be killed. They are radicals. They choose to die than to fight with someone else. They said “It’s just us who are right, all the rest are wrong”. Even if you are fighting against non Muslim person, in Islam rules you give them three days just to come back to Islam. According to them, “you are fighting with us, it is ok. Against us, you are wrong and you will be killed”. Islam is the religion of forgiveness. But not according to them…

ISIS was prevailing in every village in the countryside of Deir ez-Zor. They were bribing people in order to give them information, to give them the stronghold of Al Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army. This is the biggest reason that they could capture village by village. The other reason they are strong is because the road to Iraq was open in front of them. There was a strong battle in Al Bukamar, with the biggest brigade in these places which was called Ammar al Mukhtar. This brigade had strong fighters against the Assad regime but ISIS killed them. They tried to surround Al Bukamar, this strong village, besieged them from three sides. The fourth side is to Iraq, so they were totally surrounded by ISIS. Some battalions chose to go to Qalamoon, Idlib, to Aleppo to fight there, the others chose to join ISIS.

“You have to leave…ISIS is looking for you”

I left along with my group and went back to Daraa last August during Ramadan. I tried to go and visit my family because for eight months… I hadn’t seen my mother and my father. I went to my family and stayed there for three days. Many people came to me and told me to leave because ISIS was looking for me. I have a friend in ISIS who chose to help me to leave the place. I gave him my car and told him to give me a way to Daraa but he told me the road to Daraa was closed. There were many checkpoints in between. Any person who is arrested at that checkpoint and they know him, he is going to get killed soon.  So we discussed and said that we should come to Turkey.

When I went to Turkey, there was no one who knew me, because all the time I was wearing a scarf in my face. No one knows my real name because during the war we were all using nicknames, mine was Abu Hakam. I had long hair, long beard and in the checkpoint in Raqqa, the fighter stopped me, I gave him my identity card, he asked me about my job, I told him I wasn’t working. He asked me why I have long hair and long beard. As far as the beard is concerned, it is Islamic Sunni, the hair of Muslim people should not be cut so this is why my hair is so long, I said. “I don’t believe you”, he said, but he let me pass. The other checkpoint was 30 km far in Al Saheel. The guard asked me my papers. I got my identity from the Syrian government. After the Revolution there were many fake identities. The guard told me it is illegal. So, I told him, you have to look at the dates, it is before the Revolution.” No”, he told me, “it is illegal, you are not the same person”. I give him the passport. He told me that even the passport is in an illegal way. I asked him “what do you want?”. He asked me where I want to go and I told him I am going to Turkey for work, to help my family. He replied, “if you are looking for work, why don’t you come to ISIS and work with us?” I told him that I don’t like fighting and battles, so he let me go.

Right now I have contact with my family. There is no coverage area in my village but there is a wireless machine, sometimes they call me, not all the time. Sometimes, every week, every ten days, they call me. I hope I will be going back to Syria.

“The US coalition is neither against the ISIS nor against the Assad regime… they are against civilians”

If I had to choose to fight against ISIS or Assad regime, frankly speaking, fighting against Assad regime was my priority when I was in Syria. From the beginning, we started our revolution against the Assad regime. We fought the regime and after that we had to come to ISIS.  I would never fight along with Assad against ISIS…. definitely no.

The US coalition is neither against the ISIS nor against the Assad regime. From the beginning, they are against civilians. Why hadn’t there been three years ago against ISIS and against the Assad regime? ISIS now is used for something specific. Up to now, the Turkish government gave support to ISIS in in Ayn-alarab, Kobane. They use them for something specific. They use ISIS against the Kurdish fighters. The Turkish government isn’t with ISIS but they use ISIS against those people, against those fighters. And America uses ISIS to kill every radical person in the world. According to America the Kurdish people are similar to Israel; they support Kurdish people like they support Israel.

As far as my fighters are concerned, my group went to Daraa, one of my men martyred, the other one was injured and a third was with ISIS and the others went back to Daraa. A month ago we heard that the colonel Sukur was killed so we were so happy, but it was not more than a rumor. He got the support by the name of free Syrian army and he gave it to the ISIS.

The fighters fleeing in Turkey are actually a lot. The Free Syrian Army now has a camp for new rebels in the border. It is a military training camp. There are now camps in Saudi Arabia, more than 5000 fighters are educated there. They are trained for every kind of weapons.

The future of Al Assad

The Al Assad regime is dead. The soldiers fighting for them are from Hezbollah, Pakistan from Russia, China, but not all of them from Syria. There are a lot of Iranians who are fighting with the Al Assad regime. Just in Deir ez-Zor there are 125.000 soldiers from his army.  The situation is so complicated….maybe the regime takes its ideas from Russia from Iran to do …they told them you have to do that. Just in Deir ez Zor. Al Assad will not win. That will take a long of time, many battles. But we know and believe in our Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, The Prophet (ﷺ) said: “It will turn out that you will be armed troops, one is Syria, one in the Yemen and one in Iraq. Ibn Hawalah said: Choose for me, Messenger of Allah, if I reach that time. He replied: Go to Syria, for it is Allah’s chosen land, to which his best servants will be gathered, but if you are unwilling, go to your Yemen, and draw water from your tanks, for Allah has on my account taken special charge of Syria and its people. that he said in Levant will be a government who will give the people their rights even if it takes a lot of time”

“I am afraid In Turkey”

The first person to bring me here * in this town of Turkey was a friend from Syria. I knew that he was here and I came here straight.  There are many fighters here in Turkey against ISIS. Someone told me maybe there are spies for ISIS here trying to kill, but there is nothing happening in this town of Turkey frankly. Up to now. I am sure there are many spies. The ISIS fighters are ready to commit suicide, to kill everybody, they don’t have a problem. Here, we are safe and in peace but we should be careful. I am 2 months and 17days in Turkey.

In my last battle against ISIS, I had an injury in my feet. I have insurance, everything is good. A doctor told me maybe we can heal it. My brother in Germany told me to come to Germany, my uncle lives for the past 25 years in Germany.

There is no fighters’ camp in Turkey. The camp was in Ras Al Ayn, the fighters of the Free Syrian Army were trained in Ras Al Ayn. Most of them are in Aleppo, inside of Syria. Now there is a camp in Idlib for Free Syria Army and in a few days they will finish their training.

After the attack of ISIS in YPG in Kobane, still I am not fighting with them against PKK. Even if they fought against the Assad regime in Raqqa airport, I would not be with them.

(The name of the interviewer as well as the place of the town are not mentioned for the safety of the person).

About the Authors:

ioannis_seferiadis
Ioannis Seferiadis is a journalist currently working for Athens News Agency. He also works as a freelancer in greek and foreign newspapers. For the past years he focuses on Greek – Turkish relations and Middle East issues.  He majored in economic studies. 
alexandros_kampouris
Alexandros Kampouris is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. He focuses on Turkish foreign policy, Turkish-Greek relations and minorities. He majored in philosophy and received his masters in international relations.

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