Footage filmed in northern Syria by reporters Farouk Atig and Yacine Benrabia for the website www.spicee.com gives us a rare sight inside the daily life of Jihadists.
Playing with ‘the kid’ between two battles surrounded by heavy weapons, having a barbecue with friends, swimming or discussing strategy… of a game of football.
They both spent nine days embedded with Ansar al-Aquida, an islamist brigade fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In the report “Les escadrons du Djihad” (The Jihad Squads) we can see them fighting the Syrian Army, there is a rare testimony of female fighters and gruesome guerrilla action, and also many relaxed moments, somehow difficult to imagine in the hell of Syrian war.
Damage caused by blasts is evident around the football pitch where the jihadists show off their skills with a battered ball. An abandoned van and artillery pieces scattered along the sidelines complete the scene.
The group Ansar al-Aquida was created a few months ago by Abu Muhammad al-Halabi, former leader from al-Nusra front, which is blacklisted by the United Nations..
They want to set up the broadest caliphate possible in the region —and beyond, as some dream of conquering Europe — under the rule of the Sharia, the Islamic law, but they also like to spend some time fishing or chilling around a barbecue. Their guns are never too far away.
The contrast is striking, acknowledges Farouk Atig on a phone interview “it’s one of the differences with the Islamic State group (ISIL) for the Ansar al-Aquida fighters it’s not “haram”, it’s not a sin to have some fun, to enjoy life, have a private life”.
Atig, who has experience in other battlefields such as Libya tells euronews how shocking it is to see the gruesome war scenes juxtaposed with “super normal” daily life moments. “We have had nightmares, both my colleague Yacine and I”.
Another difference is the presence of women fighters, who speak directly to the camera, something rarely shown in ISIL propaganda. Ansar al-Aquida is mainly formed of Syrians, unlike the “international fighters” that ISIL recruits.
Despite their ideology and methods (the report follows the last journey of a suicide bomber), “they are people like you and me,” says Farouk Atig. “They all have their smartphones”.
There’s a scene where they get several drones delivered and they play with them, we would say they are like children with the latest PlayStation, having fun testing it, but afterwards they will use it to launch a rocket against Assad’s troops or to sight the army.”
Atig explains that it is difficult for us to understand their values: “They’re part of a broader global project, and their own life is unimportant, while in the meantime they like to enjoy life, having fun is their oxygen after four years of fighting. They are ready for anything to overthrow the ‘dictator’ (Assad)”.
They carefully observe every Muslim prayer and precept, they’re very religious, but they don’t feed the marketing that a group like ISIL can show. “The most striking for me it was their determination to achieve their goal, the caliphate, God. I won’t say they are funny guys and it’s not my job to judge them, they’re completely focused in their objective, and their fight and suddenly they become again human beings, they have some laugh between them they spend some time off like you and me. It’s really weird”.
When asked who finances them, there was no response. They are very autonomous, they recycle everything and they are very competent, many studied abroad says Atig.
The full report “Les escadrons du Djihad” (The Jihad Squads) may be seen here