SOHR exclusive | "Personal vendetta:" fighters' motive for joining armed factions and jihadist groups in Syria • The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

SOHR exclusive | “Personal vendetta:” fighters’ motive for joining armed factions and jihadist groups in Syria

Fighting and toppling regime forces have not been the sole motivation for the involvement of a large number of young men in the ranks of armed opposition factions and jihadist groups, particularly as military operations have receded over the recent years. Personal motives and aims, such as vengeance, have driven most people to join military ranks. Seldom do jihadist group and military faction comprise members who do not seek to fulfil personal goals and desires.


Many civilians have confirmed to SOHR activists that members who seek personal ends always invite troubles and personal problems which lead and contribute to committing violations against civilians, not only fighters.


Speaking to SOHR, a woman from Al-Mansourah town in western Al-Raqqah countryside known by her initials as A. Y. who is the mother of an ISIS leader known by his initials as A. T. says “after the death of my husband, I tried to execute his will regarding continuing the education of my children; My son, the ISIS leader, studied at the Faculty of Law, Damascus University, and my eldest son had persuaded his father before his death to transfer the inheritance to him under the pretext of ‘preserving the inheritance,’ but, after the death of my husband, my eldest son took the inheritance and keep it to himself, giving nothing to his siblings. In 2014, my son A. T joined ISIS ranks to retaliate against his brother for his injustice, violence and depriving his siblings of inheritance. Once he decided to join ISIS, he tore apart his university certificate he had been granted by the faculty of law.”


A young man from southern Idlib countryside and living now in a camp in Jisr Al-Shughur in western Idlib countryside, known by his initials as M. M has told SOHR the story of one of his relatives, a 25-year-old young man operating under the banner of “Al-Sultan Suleiman Shah Division” (Amshat) faction, who always frequent to northern Idlib countryside and northern Aleppo countryside.


The young man says that his relative was marginalised and ostracised, suffered from academic failure and had no influence among his peers since his childhood.


The young man adds that “once my relative became an adult, he engaged in personal disagreements with other members of tribes in the area, and he always suffered from loneliness and tasted bitter defeat as he had no relatives to side with and support him in his problems and disagreements. Thus, he has joined Amashat faction whose members are characterised by being ostentatious and are renowned for their fondness for appearance and love to show off and seek to attract attention by conspicuous behaviour.”


“His joining of the faction was a turning point in his life, as his character has changed for the worst, and he has become a sadist who gets pleasure from hurting and suppressing others and enjoys torturing weak people. In addition, he has become an ostentatious person who always shows off his money, being so close to the command of the faction, parading with and showing off his weapon, clothing, and his car.”


The young man continues that the Amashat member reported and filed a complaint against a man in his village to the leadership of his faction due to an earlier dispute with this man, so that the name of that young man was circulated, and he was prevented from entering the faction-controlled areas. The Amashat member also turned to solve disputes that arose between his siblings and others by force in favour of his siblings, for being backed by the faction fighters.


The young man, M. M., explains “I know people who have joined the factions’ ranks only to meet the desire to look strong, carry weapons and use them in disputes and celebrations, and brag about money if they are commanders or close to the leaders of the factions.”


The young man stresses that young men join factions due to the low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence that many young and adult men suffer from.


Talking to SOHR about the rampant phenomenon of joining the ranks of the factions in order to fulfil personal desires, a young man known as A. A. from western Hama countryside who was a member of several military factions, the last of which was “Jayish Al-Nasr” faction which was deployed in the northern and western Hama countryside, then defected from the faction in late 2019 and announced his complete retirement from armed action, says, “it is hard to find a faction free of such young men whose numbers are currently increasing. The young men prefer to join the ranks of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham faction, as this faction is the most powerful military group in northern Syria today.”


The young man adds, “the majority of young men, who have been suffering from being marginalised among their peers or engaged in personal disputes or disagreement with other people, join the faction to avenge them even this avenge is morally just by showing off and bragging their power and money, without harming or assaulting others. Other weak young people join the factions because of lack of self-confidence, so they need a faction to protect them.”


“Many young people prefer to join factions known for their power of control, such as Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham and Al-Sultan Suleiman Shah,” the young man noted.


He also points out that in the past, the majority of young people in areas in Hama countryside preferred to join certain factions, such as Jayish Al-Ezzah and Ahrar Al-Sham, before HTS imposed its control over the areas which these factions had operated in, and then captured by the regime forces and their backed militias.


He asserts that these members are ostracised and no one prefers to deal and mingle with them because of their misbehaviour, as they believe that they can intimidate anyone by force and feel that they are superior and better than other people because they are members of these factions and groups that turned them into bad persons and do not exert tangible efforts to put an end to their violations.


In his testimony to SOHR, an activist known as M. A. says, “the higher a member’s military rank, the greater their influence and dominance over other people.”


The activist notes that joining the factions by young men for personal ends has become a remarkable phenomenon since HTS controlled vast areas in the countryside of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib and imposed control over areas controlled by several armed opposition factions, such as Ahrar Al-Sham Movement, Nur Al-Din Al-Zanki Movement and others. These factions saw major defections and many of their members joined the ranks of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham, according to the activist.


The activist points out that “the main reason behind the high willingness of joining the ranks of HTS is that HTS has recently expanded and increased its influence over north-west Syria region. The members of other factions felt afraid that they could be arrested because they were formerly members of these factions, so they began to join the ranks of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham to secure protection. Some of these members were able to gain the trust of Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham commanders and have now held prominent military positions.”


The activist explains that “the love of showing off and vengeance for personal ends are general scourges that prevail among members in all factions, but it is rampant and widespread among jihadist groups, as they are militant and extremist groups dealing harshly and severely with civilians, especially in terms of religious matters. This created a category of young men operating under the banner of these groups, trying to apply ’the religious teachings’ by force and not tolerating religious matters. Ironically, these members do not correctly apply these religious teachings, but they deal this way because they consider themselves guardians and others must obey them.”


It is worth noting that there are many other reasons that prompted many young men to join armed opposition factions and jihadist groups. These reasons and motives have not even related to the fundamental objectives of the Syrian Revolution or the fight against regime, but they are personal reasons, such as earning monthly salaries, providing protection for the family or desire to meet and fulfil personal desires and needs.

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