The Free Syrian Army is being taken over by groups of jihadist thugs

The Free Syrian Army has fallen prey to gangsters and fanatics

4 May 2013

9:00 AM

4 May 2013

9:00 AM

Ghadi had spent the past two years on the run from the Syrian regime but it was the rebels fighting against the government, the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) who finally caused him to abandon the revolution and flee Damascus. He had made the mistake of speaking out against one of the big FSA brigades running the Yarmouk district of the capital. ‘They are thieves and gangsters,’ he told me. ‘One Facebook post about what they’re doing will get you killed.’

I met Ghadi in a Beirut café, after he had made the long trek over the mountains from Syria to Beirut. Other activists joined us, all bitterly disillusioned by the corruption, looting and kidnapping that has consumed the uprising. When FSA fighters in Yarmouk had car trouble, they said, they would casually set up a checkpoint to seize another vehicle ‘for the revolution’. Mercedes were popular.

Ghadi, a tall young man of about 30, had helped to run a centre collecting food for refugees. But FSA fighters arrived, and without apology or explanation piled the food into a pick-up truck and drove off. This was the final straw for Ghadi, but he’d had doubts about the ‘resistance’ for months.

As a ‘citizen journalist’, he followed the FSA, camera in hand. One day the local commander led him down into a basement and said: ‘Look at this.’ Ghadi’s video shows five men sitting, all rigid with fear, stripped to the waist, blindfolded, hands bound behind their backs. Ugly bruises cover most of their upper bodies. They had been seized from a suburb loyal to the government. They included a clerk in the foreign ministry, a new recruit to an artillery regiment and a secondary school headmaster.

The headmaster’s dignity had long gone, his comb-over pointing in all directions. The commander smoothed the wisps of hair. The man shrank like a beaten dog. ‘Haven’t we treated you well?’ said the commander. Then he kicked him under the chin, snapping his head back. ‘These are all spies,’ he declared.


By the standards of Syrian atrocity videos, this was more creepy than shocking. But what had upset Ghadi was that the commander wasn’t at all worried he was filming — he wanted him to show the basement.

Speaking out was not a popular move. ‘People are always telling you, “It’s not the time to talk about what’s going wrong; it’s the time to fight the regime”,’ said Ghadi. ‘But I believe that if you truly want to fight Bashar, you must correct what the FSA is doing on the ground. I feel so angry. I am not asking for a revolution that’s 100 per cent clean and pure. But the FSA brigades in Damascus are not fighting for freedom any more. The FSA has lost the trust of the people.’

These men I met were all secular activists and one of their great worries was about the increasing power of the main jihadist group, Jabhat al Nusra, or the Nusra Front. A Jabhat fighter once strode into their media centre, said Ghadi, and found an old vodka bottle that had water in it. The fighter flung the bottle to the ground, shattering it, and crying out: ‘God is great!’ Ghadi told him: ‘Save “God is great” for when you blow up a tank or shoot down a jet — not for smashing a bottle.’

Jabhat al Nusra only emerged in January last year and for a long time they were a secretive and apparently small group, posting videos of suicide bombings. Now they are everywhere, their ranks swollen by young Syrians impressed by their discipline and piety and by foreigners looking for a holy war, wherever it might be.

Last month, the Nusra Front detained four Italian journalists in the northern province of Latakia. Among them was a friend of mine, Susan Dabbous, a Syrian-Italian correspondent. The journalists were filming inside a desecrated church in a formerly Christian village, the Christians having fled when the Nusra Front arrived. They faced the customary accusation of spying, by a group that was led by a 28-year-old ‘emir’.

At times, said Susan, the ‘emir’ really seemed to believe he had captured four dangerous western agents. He was Syrian but the fighters included Tunisians, Moroccans, Saudis. They were itching to kill a westerner, firing over the journalists’ heads with their Kalashnikovs. ‘Why are you helping the kafirs [infidels]?’ the emir asked the journalists’ Syrian fixer. He alternately tried to convert Susan to Islam and threatened to cut her hands off. ‘I know you are compiling a dossier on me,’ he told her. Halfway through their captivity, the jihadis started celebrating as it was announced that the Nusra Front had formally joined al-Qa’eda.

Not everyone was celebrating: there have been protests against the Nusra Front because regular Syrians don’t want a Taleban telling women to wear the niqab and not to drive, and the Nusra Front is involved in a vicious feud with elements of the FSA. This is partly over spoils, partly ideological. Elsewhere, however, the FSA is so close to Nusra it has almost fused with it. Some of the most powerful FSA brigades have dispensed with the language of democracy and are now talking unambiguously about waging a war to impose sharia law.

On my last trip into Syria, I met Ayat, a female activist who had worked in a Damascus bank before she turned to running guns for the revolution. In tight black jeans and sneakers, she still looked like the girl-about-town she had once been. She refused to cover up in a hijab and would not leave the room when the men arrived, however much the fighters hissed at her and told her (literally) to get back to the kitchen. Ayat was in despair about the FSA’s inability to take the capital. ‘Each group is just sitting on its weapons trying to grab what they can for themselves,’ she said. Things are getting so bad, there are even reports of rebel fighters defecting back to the government side, disgusted with the way the armed uprising has betrayed its ideals.

Ayat’s husband, a law student before the uprising, commands an FSA unit generally regarded as honest, so there do still exist rebels untainted by corruption. But they are few and far between, and identifying them becomes harder all the time.

The next Spectator Debate on 24 June will be debating the motion ‘Assad is a war criminal. The West must intervene in Syria’ with Malcolm Rifkind, Andrew Green, Douglas Murray and more. Click here to book tickets.

Paul Wood is a BBC Middle East correspondent covering Syria.

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Show comments
  • TeamRed_vs_TeamBlue

    Gee, what a surprise. Who woulda thought?

    We need to stay as far from this as possible. Let the idiots kill each other, like they’ve been doing for thousands of years. It’s not our fight. At least not yet.

    • DanielMeah

      Syria was fine untill america’s “Freedom Fighters” appeared.. stop with ur right wing nonsense

      • TeamRed_vs_TeamBlue

        Right wing? How about I-don’t-want-any-of-our-kids-to-die-for-a-bunch-of-religious-fanatics wing?

        Let the religion Of Peace deal with their own problems. Not worth losing even one of our own citizens over it.

        • DanielMeah

          and dont call the syrian people idiots you know nothing about syria. them rebels want to apply islamic law. Syria is a secular state. where christians sunni’s,alawite,christians,jews where alll treated the same. unlike ur gov supporting saudi style gov

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1672891012 Greg Burton

    Well, of course they’re Jihadist thugs! they’re doing exactly what Saudi Arabia, or Israel, or the CIA trained them to do: incite terror, sheer terror in the populace as a psychological tool of control, while undermining the strength to resist in those countries targeted for regime change, while providing the pretext for police state laws at home (Muslim boogieman).

    These private “Arab” armies. i.e. al Qaeda, the Wahhabis, the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood all are heretical Islamic miscreations; unsuspecting Muslims taught a heretical version of Islam in Muslim schools (Madrassah) in places like Saudi Arabia, the Benghazi peninsula of Libya, and the Maghreb regions of desert north Africa. It is important to know that these “databases” of secret armies are connected to the secret societies that helped spawn them: Freemasonry, Skull & Bones, Grand Orient Lodge, Grand Alpina Lodge, Knights Templar, Royal Order of the Garter, Priory de Sion, the Rosicrucians, the Palladium Rite.

    These Secret society teachings originally derived from the Ismailis, a biblical sect originating in the Jewish diaspora, who perfected the method of corrupting an opponent internally, perfected a method of indoctrination that would be employed by the Illuminati throughout the subsequent centuries (Project Monarch,torture/drugs). Though they professed outwardly to represent Islam, the Ismailis (Dönme) (Marranos) leaders were committed to Islam’s (all religions) destruction (Hegelian Dialect); and place their true religion (Luciferism) as the undisputed religious theology. It is important to realize that these secret armies do not have to be “Muslim”. These heretical variants can be applied to any religious philosophy and used to undermine civil society. I believe that such heretical variants have already been used, and are being readied to undermine and destroy the United States from within. To destroy its rule of law, the constitution, and subordinate it to a miscreant global oligarchy.

    As far as the Wahhabis are concerned, they were concocted as a counter-weight against the Ottoman Empire, the last true caliphate (Lawrence of Arabia); and its variants have been used in recent history to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan, break up the former sovereign nation of Yugoslavia (Balkanization), used in the Bekaa Valley Lebanon, used against our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and in Libya, Syria, and the Caucuses against the current Russian government. Their trademarks terrorist acts include suicide bombings, mass killings, decapitation, and crucifixion. Ultimately, these unsuspecting “Muslims” are being used as tools for western oligarchic interests to destroy nations states, to loot the public’s institutions, to control the public’s media, armies, police, banking; and are a primary moving forces behind the drug cartels.

    Are far as 9/11 is concerned, “al Qaeda” does not exist, but is still being used as a tool to bankrupt and subordinate nations, including the United States, to a fascist oligarchic NWO; and is used as a secret army for creating the global police state run by the drug and banking cartels centered around the City of London and Israel. Al Qaeda does exists, and is a threat to every man, women and child on the planet.

    • James

      Classic good vs evil spanning centuries. I’ve been reliably informed that the biggest threat to the UK are not lone wolf bombers, but the professionals waiting patiently.

    • Robert Mason

      This guy is off his rocker…

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1672891012 Greg Burton

        It’s your funeral…and your children’s and grandchildren’s. So, keep whistling in the dark.

    • allymax bruce

      The ‘soft’ indoctrination perfected by the Ismailis you talk of, is being used on the ‘British’ people by the Zionist MSM; the worst, or best example, is seen in the Scotsman newspaper. They even ‘progress’ the brainwashing by banning commentary forum users for using words like, sex, bigot, and anteciations of words like heterosexual, and homosexual. And the people still using the Scotsman forums still don’t understand they are being brainwashed into an indoctrined desensitised, and sterile language & thought process.

    • CortUK

      Nobody establish eye contact with this one.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1672891012 Greg Burton

        I hope your well paid for your treason. Not that it won’t make it worth it in the end.

  • DanielMeah

    they where jihadists from day one. just in the propaganda they didnt mension this. and now us wants to arm them. Reminds of the days when the us armed al qaeda..

    • zanzamander

      US has a hand in arming all Islamists. Its sponsorship of Pakistan and its state terrorism is nothing but evil.

  • http://twitter.com/bookidolatry Mel C. Thompson

    Jihadi thugs hijack everything. When will we learn. Never support any uprising in a majority Muslim country until you know for sure that Sunnis won’t take control. Better to have a minority dictator who allows for diversity of religion than a Sunni democracy where all the Christians, Jews, Hindus, Bahais and even other Muslim sects are all purged from the land. That democracy that seeks to eliminate all diversity of life and establish a puritanical, faceless, white-robed, face-covered, culture of book-idolatry slaves (monotheism is mostly Book Idolatry, worshipping the Koran or the Bible instead of God, so that if there was a God, He or She could not speak anyway). I back Israel, not because I believe in Judaism, nor because I believe Israel is good, or even Democratic; but I back them because they allow for some human diversity. The sexist, racist, homophobic, supremacist mob-rule of the Sunni world need to comes to an end soon. We were wrong to overthrow Saddam. True, he was a butcher. But, the current regime in Baghdad did not protect minority religions, and now only Shia and Sunni remain to kill each other, (and almost always because the Sunnis start the killing). Sunnis cannot live with the idea that they don’t always win. This is the ultimate of selfish, juvenile religions. Sunni-ism in its Salfi form is like a spoiled, brat, bully teenager who, when he can’t charm his way into getting his way, just resorts to brute force and mob backing. The Jihadis are against music, against photography, against erotica, against comparative religion debates, against theological criticism,against free academic research. They make the old Soviets look open-minded by comparison. In fact, why did we chase the Soviets out of Afghanistan? We should have let them stay to purge the country of that stupid Taliban religion of pure hatred. I’d much rather deal with a Socialist than a Jihadi any day. Why did we choose Islamic Fundamentalism over Socialism? We really let our anti-Soviet paranoia get the best of us, and we ended up funding the world’s most hateful ideology outside of North Korea. Let’s dump them and get our energy elsewhere.

    • DanielMeah

      whats with sunni this sunni that,assad has huge sunni support. These rebels are simply terrorists

    • TeamRed_vs_TeamBlue

      My Imaginary Friend is better than your Imaginary Friend, so I get to kill you.

      The Middle East in a nutshell.

  • zanzamander

    Some of us knew about the jihadis in Syrian opposition from get-go. We did not need 1-1 in Middle Eastern history from Oxbridge to figure that one out. You still insist in calling them a Free Army, we know they’re anything but free. We look around us, listen and see what is happening and connect the dots. You lot coined the oxymoronic phrase “Arab Spring” while to the rest of us it was a “Jihadi Spring”.

    The problem is that the media, the politicians and academics are too up each others arses to smell the real shit hitting the fan. I bet the thought that this continent (Europe) is next in line for an Islamic takeover has not even entered your brain yet.

  • Eddie

    What, so the Allah-u-akbar-chanting insurgents fighting the tolerant, secular regime of Assad are not fluffy little peaceful bunnies?
    No, it cannot be – otherwise, the BBC, Channel 4 news, and all our government experts wouldn’t be siding with them, would they?
    Oh but hang on – if these same people are in Afghanistan or Iraq or indeed amongst us letting off whizz-bangs to kill infidels, then they are our enemy; but if they are in Syria, they’re our friends. Is that right?
    We should support Assad – his regime is the only hope for all Christians, Halawites, atheists and moderate Muslims in Syria.

  • chan chan

    The Muslim Brotherhood’s Sheik Yusuf Al Qaradawi says “The Jihad in Syria is a duty incumbent upon all Muslims”. Who are we to argue with that? This man is as near as it’s possible to get to a ‘Pope’ figure in Sunni Islam.

    And supplying sophisticated weapons to what have always been pious Muslim terrorist maniacs, not “rebels”, not “the opposition” couldn’t possibly go wrong, could it? Especially when hundreds of them return to their “home countries” in Europe, with fresh on-the-job training, welcomed with open arms by their respective border officials. And who’s to say some of those weapons won’t eventually find their way back here as well?

  • Roger

    This shocking picture has just been released of a Christian girl gang raped by 20 Jihadis then murdered by a crucifix in the mouth. http://www.faithfreedom.org/?p=3199

    • crosscop

      A rebel imam only a week or so ago stated that, in accordance with Islamic law, it was justified for Sunnis to rape any non-Sunni women they could capture. The frightening thing is that what he said is perfectly true. Their ‘prophet’ did it and allowed his men to do the same. They do it in Rochdale as well, of course.

    • CortUK

      No evidence in that page that the photo is genuine. Why wasn’t the victim named? They have her photo. Where was it? When?

      Indeed, a quick search throws up claims this event occurred in Egypt a year ago. Not Syria. Hardly instills confidence in the story.

  • http://charlesfrith.blogspot.com/ Charles Frith

    We predicted this two years ago. Let’s be candid. MI6 and the CIA triggered unrest in Syria to bleed it to death on the road to Iranian oil or “The big one” as the head of BP calls it’s The greedy NATO members are out of control. Printing fake money and killing people in hundreds of thousands to stay in control.

  • allymax bruce

    Paul, a very good piece of ‘war report ‘ journalism; thank God for TheSpectator. We are shown terrible pictures on our TV screens, and the Zionist MSM, always tell us it’s the Assad regime doing it, but you have given us the truth. This coincides with Carla Del Ponte ‘s UN report that it’s the rebels, the so-called Free Syrian Army, that’s been doing all the evil stuff ;the rebels are now using chemical weapons on the civilians!

    • Fasdunkle

      those zionists eh? lol

      • allymax bruce

        Zionism, is a political entity, that knows no bounds; it’s no laughing matter. But you’re working for the ‘firm’ and only want me to reply to you so you can trawl my hard drive.

        You’re an idiot Zionist.
        LAUGH .OUT. LOUD !

  • Rtd Colonel

    Not much msm coverage of the reports that it is the ‘freedom fighters that have been using nerve agents…. funny that.

  • CortUK

    Can someone tell our esteemed Foreign Secretary?

    “The UK recognises the Free Syrian Army as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.”

    William Hague, February 2013.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.servalis Sara Servalis

    FSA was Al-CIA from the get-go. Duh!

  • http://www.facebook.com/williamlambton William Lambton

    The caption in the print version is “A corrupted revolution”, here – as can be seen – “The Free Syrian Army is being taken over by groups of jihadist thugs”.


    I have already written to the editor to complain about the content of this lopsided article, so have confined my criticism here to the red bit at the top. Bah!

  • The Elderking

    Move along folks. There’s nothing to see here…

  • allymax bruce

    The free Syrian army is being taken over by jihadis thugs!
    Hague, Hollande, EU? ??

    The Ruskies are now more moral than the ‘Western World’. What happened? When did we become lying, cheating, deceiving smearing, sneering scumbags?

    See Labour.
    See Westminster.
    See Zionism.

    See Yoos !