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'Irish Sam' Joins Fight in Syria

Housam Najjair, also known as "Irish Sam," discusses his forthcoming book and his experiences waging war against former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, writes Ali Hashem.
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If Liam O'Flaherty, who died in 1984, were still alive, he might have considered writing another version of his famous short story The Sniper. This time the main character wouldn't be the IRA sniper who killed his brother; instead, it could be Housam Najjair, a Libyan-Irish man who decided to desert the comforts of Europe for the scorches of Libya and Syria.

Housam, aka "Irish Sam," was born in Ireland to a Libyan father and an Irish mother (who converted to Islam 30 years ago). A young man who seems to embrace an ambition that differs from that of fellow fighters. He's now preparing to publish his first book.

I asked him many questions, and he was apparently frank in his answers, telling me why he left Europe for the war zone and explaining why he went to Syria and whether he's going to fight in Mali or not. He explained his family's stance on his move, and how he was welcomed in Ireland when he first returned from the war zone. I asked him too if he regrets any of his kills. 

"The reason I suppose that I left the comforts of Europe for the war zone began with watching the atrocities carried out on innocent civilians by the regime," he said, meaning Gahdafi's regime, adding: "I knew I could make a difference and had many talents to offer, namely being a fluent English speaker which could help the media aspect for the rebels, discovering my fighting talents and what I was made of as a soldier was a bonus and gave me new goals to achieve."

On Syria, Irish Sam said that his decision to travel was solely based "on the feeling of guilt." He was then busy preparing for his upcoming book Soldier for a Summer.

"I just couldn't sleep at night thinking" he told me in the interview that i conducted with him online. He added: "Who am I to put my head down at night with all this knowledge and experience I have gained from Libya?" Housam believes he can train many young Syrian to "help liberate their land."

Going to Syria was not easy for Housam, who was aware fo the dangers. "We knew that the Assad regime had his spies all over Turkey and so staying low-key was essential." Housam smuggled himself with a group and then met other members of the new brigade set up by his brother-in-law Mahdi Harati in Idleb to the north of Syria.

"It was from this time that you come to realize that you can go out at absolutely any minute especially with the regime having air superiority,"  Housam said, adding, "I knew we were not there to play, we were there to make a difference, a real difference."

While in Syria the 34-year-old Irish-Libyan man, who grew up in Dublin, trained several sniper units, helped with maintenance of weapons, and took part in arms deals. He also took humanitarian missions by travelling to Aleppo and providing food to some of the refugees as they would flee the city.

"As I travelled closer to Aleppo, tears filled my eyes, not for the loss of life which is heart-wrenching in itself but the structural damage the regime has inflicted on it," he said adding: "The lack of unity became apparent to me very early on in my mission, I couldn't understand how they believed they would succeed in the long term but I also realized that the regime had worked on this aspect of division." Housam recalled one of the stories that took place with him, "one time I was handing out bread to the refugees, a shop owner approached me and said don't you know I have bread in my shop? How am I supposed to make money on it now? or are you going to reimburse me?"

This incident reinforced Housam's judgement on the lack of unity, but still he believes "this differs from region to region and in the likes of Aleppo or Homs the people have nothing left but each other, understandably bringing a different and heightened sense of unity."

I asked him if he is planning to go to Mali to help the jihadists there, but his answer was very clear and precise, "we do not have any global agenda or goal to fight anywhere there is conflict in the world, we are not some global Jihadist network." He added, "I believe that the war that unfolded in Mali was due to different causes and effects and was not a regime setup."

I was a bit curious to know what he feels after killing people, did he regret any of his kills. Once again Housam's answers came as cold as a sniper's bullet. "i will continue to sleep at night in the knowledge that I was on the side of the good and righteous against tyranny and oppression."

What about Europe, did he face any problem when he returned back? I wanted him to tell me how he was able to resume his life and how the Irish authorities dealt with him. "When I returned to Ireland the authorities here realized who and what I represent. I'm not extreme in any of my beliefs or ways, I believe in the middle road in everything in life and I think they gathered that fact very soon when profiling me." He added "being born and reared here I know my Irish half's history is steeped in revolution and nearly a decade ago we had gone through a similar process which has proven to them that revolution is a necessity to gain one's independence and sovereignty."

Housam told me about Arabs who were fighting in Syria, saying they "are acting where the so-called international institutions and armies of the world have failed," adding: "This is not strictly an Arab effort as we have now witnessed even American citizens like for example Matthew Van Dyke who could not resist to pick up arms whilst filming a documentary there, being in such close proximity to the horror I can see why he would, anyone would if they had an ounce of humanity in them."

After Libya, Housam decided to lay down his gun and wield a pen. He already wrote a book on his experience during the Libyan war. "Putting down the gun for the pen was inevitable for me for I'm by no means a warmonger or do I find any solace in war," he said, expressing hope "to contribute to changing with this book."

According to the author, Soldier for a Summer charts his journey from the everyday of his life in Dublin to his decision to join the uprising in Libya and become one of the fighters in the Libyan Brigades.

"There are poignant moments — particularly the loss of my close colleague Atif as we closed in on Tripoli," he said. It includes "stories of a captured 19-year-old girl sniper who had killed 16 men, and stories of African and Ukrainian mercenaries and the horrors they inflicted on the Libyan people."

Housam told me that the book will be published come September, adding that he's been working on a screenplay that has attracted "some attention from various production companies."

I asked him if he intends to write another book about his experience in Syria. "After the release of this book I will begin on a second installment ... Soldier for Another Summer," he said, concluding, "for when injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty."

Ali Hashem is an Arab journalist serving as chief correspondent for the Al Mayadeen news network. Until March 2012, he was an Al Jazeera war correspondent and prior to that a senior journalist at the BBC.

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