The Freeland File
Aerospace & Defense
Global Market Data
Tales from the Trail
Lucy P. Marcus
David Cay Johnston
The Great Debate
Jack & Suzy Welch
Macro & Markets
Lipper Awards 2012
Personal Finance Video
Our top photos from the London 2012 Olympic Games. Slideshow
Highlights from the closing ceremony
Video: Photographing the Olympic best
Full coverage: London 2012
Deep magnitude 7.5 quake off Russia, north of Japan
13 Aug 2012
Analysis: Are Israelis tough enough for a long war with Iran?
13 Aug 2012
New campaigner Ryan under fire from hecklers and Obama
California fires threaten nudist resort, hundreds of homes evacuated
13 Aug 2012
Apple expert shines light on Samsung sales in U.S.
13 Aug 2012
Obama’s lead over Romney grows despite voters’ pessimism
Romney to announce vice presidential choice Saturday
Standard Chartered questions New York action
Our day's top images, in-depth photo essays and offbeat slices of life. See the best of Reuters photography. See more | Photo caption
The surface of Mars
The continuing search for signs of life on the Red Planet. Slideshow
Quakes hit Iran
Two powerful quakes strike northwest Iran. Slideshow
Exclusive: Libyan fighters join Syrian revolt against Assad
Pentagon sees uptick in Syrian air attacks
Mon, Aug 13 2012
Syrian rebels call for no-fly zone
Sun, Aug 12 2012
U.S., Turkey to study Syria no-fly zone
Sat, Aug 11 2012
WRAPUP 4-U.S., Turkey to explore imposing Syria no-fly zone
Sat, Aug 11 2012
Syrian and Jordanian forces clash in border area
Fri, Aug 10 2012
Analysis & Opinion
Risk spills over in Middle East
Jordan king fears Alawite enclave if Syria breaks up
Members of Free Syrian Army fighters are seen at Sermada near Idlib gust 12, 2012.
Credit: Reuters/Shaam News Network/Handout
By Mariam Karouny
Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:18am EDT
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Veteran fighters of last year's civil war in Libya have come to the front-line in Syria, helping to train and organize rebels under conditions far more dire than those in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi, a Libyan-Irish fighter has told Reuters.
Hussam Najjar hails from Dublin, has a Libyan father and Irish mother and goes by the name of Sam. A trained sniper, he was part of the rebel unit that stormed Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli a year ago, led by Mahdi al-Harati, a powerful militia chief from Libya's western mountains.
Harati now leads a unit in Syria, made up mainly of Syrians but also including some foreign fighters, including 20 senior members of his own Libyan rebel unit. He asked Najjar to join him from Dublin a few months ago, Najjar said.
The Libyans aiding the Syrian rebels include specialists in communications, logistics, humanitarian issues and heavy weapons, he said. They operate training bases, teaching fitness and battlefield tactics.
Najjar said he was surprised to find how poorly armed and disorganized the Syrian rebels were, describing Syria's Sunni Muslim majority as far more repressed and downtrodden under Assad than Libyans were under Gaddafi.
"I was shocked. There is nothing you are told that can prepare you for what you see. The state of the Sunni Muslims there - their state of mind, their fate - all of those things have been slowly corroded over time by the regime."
"I nearly cried for them when I saw the weapons. The guns are absolutely useless. We are being sold leftovers from the Iraqi war, leftovers from this and that," he said. "Luckily these are things that we can do for them: we know how to fix weapons, how to maintain them, find problems and fix them."
In the months since he arrived, the rebel arsenal had become "five times more powerful", he said. Fighters had obtained large caliber anti-aircraft guns and sniper rifles.
Disorganization is a serious problem. Unlike the Libyan fighters, who enjoyed the protection of a NATO-imposed no-fly zone and were able to set up full-scale training camps, the rebels in Syria are never out of reach of Assad's air power.
"In Libya, with the no-fly zone, we were able to build up say 1,400 to 1,500 men in one place and have platoons and brigades. Here we have men scattered here, there and everywhere."
LACK OF UNITY
Although many rebel units fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, their commands are localized and poorly coordinated, Najjar said.
"One of the biggest factors delaying the revolution is the lack of unity among the rebels," he said. "Unfortunately, it is only when their back is up against the wall that they start to realize they should (unite)."
Syria's uprising has evolved into an all-out civil war with sectarian overtones, pitting the mainly Sunni rebels against security forces dominated by Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Assad is backed by Shi'ite-led Iran and opposed by most Arab states, which are ruled by Sunnis.
"This is not just about the fall of Assad. This is about the Sunni Muslims of Syria taking back their country and pushing out the minority that have been oppressing them for generations now," Najjar said.
The presence of foreign fighters is a sensitive issue for Syria's rebels. Assad's government has taken to referring to the rebels as "Gulf-Turkish forces", accusing the Sunni-led Arab Gulf states and Turkey of arming, funding and leading them.
Harati's unit is known as the Umma Brigade, referring to the global community of Muslims. Najjar said thousands more Sunni fighters from the Arab world were gathering in neighboring countries prepared to join the cause.
Harati is reluctant to enlist them because he does not want his cause tarnished by the perception that foreign Islamists are linked to al Qaeda, Najjar said, but he said that many of the foreigners were making their way to Syria on their own.
The Umma Brigade's Facebook page shows a picture of Najjar aiming his rifle in what looks like an open field. In another he is posing with Harati and rebels. A YouTube video shows Harati leading an attack on a checkpoint in Maarat al-Numan in Syria.
Najjar said militancy would spread across the region as long as the West does not do more to hasten the downfall of Assad.
"The Western governments are bringing this upon themselves. The longer they leave this door open for this torture and this massacre to carry on, the more young men will drop what they have in this life and search for the afterlife," Najjar said.
"If the West and other countries do not move fast it will no longer be just guys like me - normal everyday guys that might do anything from have a cigarette to go out on the town - it will be the real extreme guys who will take it to another level."
(Editing by Peter Graff)
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Back to top
New York Legal
Support & Contact
Connect with Reuters
Our Flagship financial information platform incorporating Reuters Insider
An ultra-low latency infrastructure for electronic trading and data distribution
A connected approach to governance, risk and compliance
Our next generation legal research platform
Our global tax workstation
About Thomson Reuters
Thomson Reuters is the world's largest international multimedia news agency, providing investing news, world news, business news, technology news, headline news, small business news, news alerts, personal finance, stock market, and mutual funds information available on Reuters.com, video, mobile, and interactive television platforms. Thomson Reuters journalists are subject to an Editorial Handbook which requires fair presentation and disclosure of relevant interests.
NYSE and AMEX quotes delayed by at least 20 minutes. Nasdaq delayed by at least 15 minutes. For a complete list of exchanges and delays, please click here.