GUNS N’ ROSES: Earlier this month, a young British jihadist calling himself Abu Abdullah al-Britani (left) tweeted a photograph of himself seated in the back of a vehicle alongside another fighter who calls himself Abu Qudamma a-Dousi (right).
“On the way back from islamic state of Raqqa, in the back of a van chillin n sippin coffee with ma man @rz_raz38,” reads al-Britani’s April 8 tweet, referring to Syria’s northern a-Raqqa province, where al-Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) exercises near complete control.
Foreign fighters like al-Britani have gained increasing prominence over the course of Syria’s civil war, with the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalism (ICCR)reporting in December that as many as 11,000 foreigners—among them 1,900 Europeans—had traveled to wage jihad in Syria.
In amore recent study, the ICCR explored these fighters’ active usage of social media to promote their exploits, calling Syria “the most socially mediated conflict in history.”
This trend has fueled a growing debate inside and outside Syria about the role of outsiders in the conflict.
“When foreigners first started coming to Syria, some Syrians welcomed them,” Idlib-based opposition activist Hani Hilal told Syria Direct. “But after ISIS appeared, many people are afraid of them.”
The presence of foreign fighters, Hilal adds, “has changed public perception of the Syrian revolution from a popular one demanding social justice, freedom and pluralism to a war between extremists and the regime.”
Other Syrians, however, continue to welcome foreigners, insisting that they have an important role to play in supporting the Syrian cause.
“They responded to the call of jihad from far away, and came to jihad,” Yaser al-Hiraki, a journalist with the pro-opposition Idlib News Agency, told Syria Direct.
Responses to al-Britani’s April 8 photo were similarly mixed, if less eloquently phrased.
“May Allah swt protect you and reunite u in the next life! I like the way you mix guns n roses/flowers. 🙂 Keep safe,” exhorted one follower.