Free Syrian Army Leader: We Have No Ties with Al-Qaeda

In an interview with an Iraqi newspaper, a Free Syrian Army leader denied the group had any connection to al-Qaeda and said most FSA members hate Wahhabism. Though the group lacks ammunition, he said, they have "a determination that is stronger than weapons." Abbas al-Baghdadi and Mohamed Salehi report.

al-monitor Members of the Free Syrian Army are seen in Al-Rasten, near Homs, July 27, 2012. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

wahhabism, terrorism, syrian crisis, islamists, free syrian army, al-qaeda, abu haneen

Jul 31, 2012

A Free Syrian Army (FSA) leader, who asked to be referred to as Abu Haneen, said that most members of the FSA have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and hate Wahhabism [an ultraconservative branch of Sunni Islam].

Abu Haneen, 36, a native of the city of Abu Kamal, said that the beards that some young people in the army have are not a sign of religiosity or affiliation to al-Qaeda. In fact, these young people do not have enough time to shave because they are either fighters or chased by the Syrian regime, Abu Haneen said.

The leader denied  that the FSA was fighting under a sectarian banner, claiming that such rumors had been fabricated by the regime.

Concerning the development of the situation in Syria, Abu Haneen said that in the beginning [they] started peaceful demonstrations to claim their rights, just like the peoples of the Arab Spring. Then they heard that the regime would implement new reforms, so they stopped the demonstrations. However, he added that the regime forces instead started detaining young people randomly, taking them to unknown places, where no one knew anything about their fate.

The army and the shabiha [government-armed thugs] started practicing the ugliest methods of brutality and immorality against innocent people, Abu Haneen said. They would enter a specific house, shackle a man in front of his family, then take off and tear the clothes of his wife in front of him. Also, they would trample on the bodies of demonstrators with tanks, he added, and they would break into houses and shops, loot goods and steal money.

The FSA leader added that the shabiha, "along with people dressed in black and armed with guns I have never seen before (the people said to be from Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard), would enter areas with civilian cars, ambulances and municipality vehicles for the transport of waste."

"We would suddenly see them take control of the residential areas, attacking, arresting and killing innocent people. Those arrested would rather die than undergo the injustice of the regime's henchmen, who would show the prisoners Bashar's picture and command them, 'Kneel! This is your Lord.'" Abu Haseen added.

He continued: "They [the shabiha and other groups] started planting and blowing up mines in the middle of demonstrations and then blamed these acts on subversive parties, but the truth is that the intelligence services are responsible for these acts." Abu Haneen added that young Syrians took to the streets with sticks and stones in their hands, equipped with a national determination and motivation. They organized themselves in groups and seized some weapons of the army and the shabiha, he said.

"The situation remained this way until there were splits in the ranks of the army, which helped the rebels because the defectors provided us with the military expertise and the appropriate weapons to form five military battalions fighting like guerrillas, that is adopting the hit-and-run tactic with the regular army," Abu Haneen said.

Abu Haneen said: "Our main goal is to overthrow the regime and its figures. Today we are not fighting with the sole aim of overthrowing the regime. We also want to protect our dignity from being violated."

He added: "We are suffering a lack of experience in ammunition and arms but we have a determination that is stronger than weapons."

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