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11 Sep, 2013 10:33

Recruited by Al-Qaeda: Foreign fighters in a Damascus jail tell their stories

Raouchan Gazakov brought his family to Syria, taught his 5-year-old son to make bombs and bade farewell to his relative, a suicide bomber. RT’s Maria Finoshina talked to him in a Damascus prison and asked him why he came to fight for Al-Qaeda.

“A group called Murad approached me a year ago and convinced me that Muslims in Syria are being oppressed and killed, and that I should go and take up arms against Assad for world jihad,” Raouchan said in the spartan prison, where some 200 inmates are held – most of them jihadist fighters for Al-Qaeda or affiliated groups.  The prisoners’ fate is unknown, although it looks grim.

Raouchan says he sneaked into Syria last January through Turkey. In Istanbul, two men claiming to be from Al-Qaeda met Raouchan and accompanied him to Syria. There, he joined a large terrorist group run by an Egyptian jihadist. 

Still from RT video

“My job was mainly to prepare bombs for cars. There were many people, all from different countries. Our ‘teachers’ showed us how to make bombs – which ingredients to use, and how exactly to make them,” he says.

Raouchan came with his entire family to Syria. In a macabre home movie later found on his laptop, he, his son and a group of men say goodbye to their male relative, who is about to go and blow up a police station in a suicide bomb attack. 

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In another video, Raouchan shows his son how to make a bomb. 

Still from RT video

In the Damascus prison, there are many stories of men recruited from faraway lands to come fight for jihad in Syria.

Another detainee, Amer El Khadoud, tells Maria Finoshina how he left a normal life in France, where he lived for years with his wife, a French woman, to join the Syrian jihad with an Al-Qaeda affiliated group.

“I volunteered,” says Amer. “I went to Turkey. In a refugee camp, there I met a Salafi group and I trained with them for about 2 1/2 months, and then we illegally crossed the border into Syria.” 

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However, upon his arrival, Amer says he was disappointed that the jihad was not as he was promised.

“I saw my Sunni Syrian brothers suffering here. I saw on Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and other channels that kids are also suffering. I took up arms, and I was ready to use them. But when I came here – I didn’t see the enemy.” 

Still from RT video

The prisoners’ stories of Al-Qaeda recruitment came as a new report, published by the Washington think tank Bipartisan Policy Center, entitled “Jihadist Terrorism: A Threat Assessment,” concluded that "the civil war in Syria may provide Al-Qaeda with an opportunity to regroup, train and plan operations.”

The presence of so many foreign jihadist fighters in the Damascus prison appears to support the center’s findings.
“Foreign fighters hardened in that conflict could eventually destabilize the region or band together to plot attacks against the West," the report said.

Reports have been growing for some time of jihadists recruited internationally to fight against Assad’s government.
For instance, in January, a leaked memo provided an inside look at how Saudi officials commuted the sentences of 1,200 death row inmates on the condition they join the rebels and fight against Assad in Syria, the Assyrian International News Agency reported.