This most interesting piece of reporting was published in today’s (Saturday February 8th) Belgian newspaper De Standaard. It was written by Joanie de Rijke, who accidently ended up in Northern Syria interviewing Shaykh Bassam al-Ayashi. The 68 year old Shaykh from Molenbeek (Brussels), Belgium, has been accused of recruiting fighters for Jihad worldwide. He is alledgedly one of Belgium’s main Jihadi recruiters. This text might shed some light on his true intentions.
On the middle of the crossraod, the black flag of Jabhat an-Nusra waves. It’s the only eveidence of who controls this area, there is nobody to be seen anywhere. Four narrow roads lead us through the hundreds of olive orchards, rooted in the red-brown earth of Idlib province in Northern Syria.
We are driving a Belgian ambulance – once transported here by a Syrian from Brussels – from the borderpoint at Bab al-Hawa to Hazzana, about 25 kilometers south. ‘Apart from some pockets, the region is liberated from ISIS. We rule here’
Shaykh Bassam al-Ayashi, known in Belgium as the extremist Islam preacher from Molenbeek, is at home in Idlib’s countryside. He lived there for a long time before ending up in Belgium and he still owns a house there, not that far away from the main city. His family fled. But Ayashi returned, last December. He couldn’t stand watching how Syria is been torn apart. The conflict took two of his sons, Abd ar-Rahman al-Ayashi and his adopted son Raphaël Gendron.
In September 2012 he left for Syria the first time. By mobile home, from Brussels to Syria. We were allowed to join in, reporting. We joined him and three of his twelve children. But the Shaykh was stopped by the Turkish police at the border. The night before we arrived, they received a message saying he wasn’t allowed to enter the country for a year. The reason why wasn’t mentioned. Heavily disappointed the family returned home.
This time the Shaykh succeeded. And for now he’s staying, maybe forever he says. ‘The situation in Syria is worse than ever. People don’t only suffer from the civil war, they have to sustain the terror of ISIS. They’re monsters, they steal, torture, behead. Everybody wants them out. The war on the regime is not their struggle, they mingled in, unwanted.’
They used a charm offensive to gain pouplar support, and it worked for a while, he says. ‘In Aleppo they organised children’s days, including clowns and other animation. But that stopped soon. ISIS doesn’t care about Syria. They have their own agenda: introducing a radical Islamic state, leaving no place for other religions, let alone non-believers. Everyone not following them is wrong’
ISIS and the others
Ahl al-Bayt, the Shaykh’s faction, counts about 500 men and operates only for or in cooperation with Suqur as-Sham. This group, one out of seven who united in the Islamic Front, is said to count about 70 000 to 80 000 fighters; they’re on of the more moderate groups. And this how the Shaykh describes his own branch. Their common goal: expel ISIS from Idlib.
[A paragraph explaining ISIS not being al-Qaeda, (a unicum in Belgian reporting)]
But the cooperation between the opposition is rather fragile, as we notice just after we came back home in Belgium. International media reported that Suqur as-Sham and ISIS agreed an armistice on February 4th, three days after we were there. Both parties signed an official agreement, it says, promising to leave the other in peace.
Later that night Ayashi states it is a false contract. ‘Ahmad Abu Issa, leader of the Islamic Front, has never heard of the pact. The declaration is signed by a guy he doesn’t know. And it is falsly dated. It seems this false contract was put together because of what happened on the previous day.’
Near Homs ISIS surrounded some Suqur as-Sham fighters. It was only after they promised to be “good Muslims (in ISIS norms)” that they were released. It is said that ISIS with this statement was just trying to improve its image. Ayashi replied: ‘As for us, nothing changed, we want ISIS out of Idlib.’
Get the Dushka !