3 min read  | Interviews, Politics

FSA Qalamoun battalion considers joining the Islamic State


January 28, 2015

January 28, 2015

The Islamic State (IS) began to act unilaterally in Qalamoun in late 2014, calling for opposition groups that peppered the mountain range between Syria and Lebanon to declare allegiance to the jihadist group and issued a warning to anyone who did not, reported Al-Hadath News.

The reports were confirmed when a Jabhat a-Nusra leader, the other major opposition group in Qalamoun, defected and joined IS several days later, according to the UK-based Al-Araby.

Prior to IS’s call for allegiance, the Qalamoun region was one of the few places where Nusra and IS had fought alongside each other, occasionally crossing the border into Lebanon to fight the Lebanese army in Arsal.

At least one battalion is considering joining the Islamic State, says Hadi Uthman, the alias of a 24 year-old FSA-affiliated fighter in Qalamoun. With rebel leaders defecting to the extremist group or abandoning their fighters, the decision makes sense for a fighter looking for a mission, Uthman , tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.

If you gave such fighters the opportunity to join IS and attract them with power and money, don’t you think that they will accept?”

Q: We heard that IS is calling for rebels in Qalamoun to join them and warning those who refuse. Is this correct? What has been the rebels’ reactions?

Yes, this is true. Some time ago IS members came and asked us to pledge allegiance to them. Some battalions did. My battalion is still considering it, and has not joined IS yet.

QalamounFighters Rebel fighters unload shipments in Qalamoun. Photo courtesy of @asoodshrqia.

Q: Do you think joining IS is good move for your battalion? Why are other battalions pledging allegiance to IS?

The problem is that there is clear dissatisfaction among the opposition fighters about their leaders. Sometimes the groups engage in robbery, other times they are lazy and don’t want to fight. Fighters have begun to join IS as a way to escape these realities.

Q: Do opposition fighters join IS because they believe in its ideology?

The FSA fighters are simpler than you can imagine. If the battalion leader says to go fight, they will. If the leader tells them to sit, they will. I don’t think that allegiance means acceptance of their ideology or faith.

Q: Why do the smaller opposition groups join IS when there are other larger groups they can join, such as Nusra?

I think that the area will eventually be controlled by either IS or Nusra, but Nusra has many disagreements with the battalions here. Jaish al-Islam leaders have already left the area along with their fighters. Ahrar a-Sham is on its last leg here. It seems IS has an opportunity here.

Q: Do you fear that IS will kill if you refuse to join them?

The IS religious authorities told us: “He who refuses to fight, we advise and explain to him [we will tell them why they are wrong].”

Q: Do you believe this?

Of course not, but I will give you example: One opposition leader abandoned his fighters. The fighters had to sell their weapons to buy food. If you gave such fighters the opportunity to join IS and attract them with power and money, don’t you think that they will accept?

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