On the 6th of April 2013, Pierre Piccinin da Prata entered Syria for the eighth time since the beginning of the troubles, as reporter for The New Times, followed by Domenico Quirico, an Italian journalist of La Stampa. Two days after he crossed the Syrian border, on the 8th of April, he was kidnapped in the city of al-Qusayr by an Islamist group – the Abou Omar brigade – linked to the “moderate” jihadist organization named “al-Farouk”. Pierre Piccinin da Prata spent five months in Syria as a hostage. Two months kept in al-Qusayr, under siege by the Syrian army and Hezbollah’s forces; three other months, hidden by the jihadists across all Syria. He was freed on the 9th of September 2013. One year after his misadventure, he succeeded in finding one of the jihadists who caught him. Face to face, he met him, injured and exhausted, in a dirty room, at the Lebanese border…
Pierre Piccinin da Prata – Very strange to meet you again… How are you, now? Did you go back to al-Qusayr?
Jihadist – Strange? Why? We are friends, now… I was injured. I didn’t go back to al-Qusayr. It is not possible to go back to my village. Hezbollah and the army are everywhere. It is under control of the Syrian regime. And, like you see, I’m wounded; I have to rest in Lebanon before I continue to fight this regime…
PPdP – Where is your katiba (brigade)? Are you still fighting with your friends?
Jihadist – No, no… I left them… Some problems… I left them after the withdrawal of al-Qusayr, one month after… Now, I’m fighting with another Islamic katiba… Katiba al-Bashar al-Nasser. It means “Hope of Victory”. They are from al-Qusayr, but, now, they fight near Aleppo. When I will be better, I will join them again.
PPdP – What do you mean by “problems with them” ?
Jihadist – They don’t have any strategy in their war against the regime. They just fight for themselves… Sometimes, they… they didn’t dedicate their time only to our goal, to fight the regime… It was not correct. And they didn’t really respect the rules of Islam. They have bad behaviour. So…
PPdP – Do you mean that they are like “bandits”? Did they loot the civilian population?
Jihadist – No, no… but… Some problems like that, yes…
And because of your kidnapping… And the kidnapping of your friend… I forgot his name…
PPdP – Domenico.
Jihadist – Yes, Domenico… I didn’t agree when you were not liberated after we succeeded in leaving al-Qusayr. I know that you were kept as hostages three months again after we crossed the lines of the regime. At the end of the siege of al-Qusayr, Abou Omar promised you your freedom… That was not correct… Because of many reasons, I left them…
I have a question: you, and Domenico… When you turned back to Europe, you said that the opposition used chemical weapons… I read that on the Internet. Did you write that? Is it true?
PPdP – Yes, I did. We learned some facts, during the three months we stayed in Syria after the siege of al-Qusayr. We have evidence that the chemical attack on the suburbs of al-Gouta, on the 21th of August 2013, was not decided by the Syrian government, but was organized by a group of rebels, to provoke an intervention of the International community.
Jihadist – No, no! The opposition, the Free Syrian Army, doesn’t have chemical weapons!
PPdP – Not the Free Syrian Army. I keep good contacts with FSA; I have many friends in the FSA and I continue to support them. But some Islamist groups ; we don’t know exactly whichone. And, following the inquiry of an American journalist, Seymour Hersh, it seems that Turkey helped this group in providing Sarin gaz.
Jihadist – I didn’t know. We thought that you wrote that to take revenge on us, because we caught you for money… So… OK… OK.
PPdP – Do you want to go back to Syria, to fight again?
Jihadist – Yes, yes! Of course, of course! Because we… I mean: the opposition, the fighters… We are right! The Syrian regime is on the wrong side. It is logical that the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad will collapse. God will never give the victory to them. Sooner or later, it will collapse.
But, for the moment, the West, European countries and the United States of America, don’t want that the Syrian people take their freedom from this regime, because the regime of Bashar al-Assad supports and protects Israel. Not directly. But it doesn’t fight Israel any more and doesn’t leave Palestinian fighters cross the Golan border. Do you know that the Golan border is protected by the Syrian army, not against Israelitroops, but to forbid Palestinian refugees in Syria to go to fight against Israel?
Imagine if we succeeded in taking power in Syria… What about Israel?
PPdP – But the regime’s army is conquering ground: after it won the battle of al-Qusayr, it took Yabroud, all the Lebanese border… and now, Homs, a symbolic place for the revolution…
Jihadist – Yes, that’s true. Bashar al-Assad had many victories. Because the Islamic groups and the Free Syrian Army don’t have any efficient support from outside Syria ; and because they don’t have a common strategy.
On the contrary, Iran and Russia (and the West, in a certain manner) support al-Assad’s army.
But we will get the victory. It is only a question of time…
When European countries and the United States of America will stop supporting Bashar al-Assad, we will immediately win. I promise!
PPdP – Are the fighters of your new katiba all friends from al-Qusayr? Or did you meet them fighting?
Jihadist – Yes, yes! I met them in al-Qusayr.
PPdP – How were you injured?
Jihadist – I was in Yabroud, where we left you… al-Assad’s army conquered the place… Do you know it? And I was injured because of bombing… Missiles and rockets… and my legs were crashed. I mean… The bones… It was the 22nd of August 2013… Last year.
PPdP – To begin, just one thing that I would like to make very clear: you –and your friends-, when I was your prisoner, you don’t hide that you were working for the al-Farouk brigades.
Jihadist – Yes! Yes! It is right…
PPdP – I ask you this question, because, after I turned back to Belgium, I denounced al-Farouk, but they contested, saying they didn’t know you and they never knew anything about the katiba Abou Omar.
Jihadist – I don’t know why they told you that, because our group was part of the al-Farouk brigades. Our katiba worked for al-Farouk brigades in al-Qusayr and our leader, Abou Omar, received his orders from al-Farouk.
PPdP – As you know, more and more journalists were kidnapped in Syria…
Jihadist – You mean « arrested »!
PPdP – As you want… German, Swedish, French, Spanish journalist and photographers… They were kidnapped after I was caught myself. By Islamist groups. For money. This phenomenon began with us, one year ago… And, now, no more journalists will go to Syria to report on what happens there. Except, perhaps, from the government’s side… So, TVs, in Europe, don’t speak any more about your people. What do you think about that?
Jihadist – You know, Pierre… Yes…
I will tell you my point of view.
At the beginning of the Syrian revolution, when we began to fight the regime seriously, after the elections of 2012, there were journalists inside Syria, to cover the conflict. And activists from the opposition welcomed these journalists. You know it very well. You were in Syria with the Free Syrian Army and also with Islamist fighters. Weren’t you welcomed by them?
We met with the journalists and we spent time with them; we ate with them; we sat and spoke with them; we answered all their questions and told them everything they wanted, about all subjects. And we gave them a lot of information, to help them to understand the conflict.
But, after some months, we had doubts; we noticed some details, and we had evidence that some of these journalists were spies, for the moukabarats [Syrian intelligence services], for the regime, or for western countries. We understood that numerous TV channel sent reporters working for the Syrian regime. It was the case, for example, of many channels from Iran: their journalists were working for Iran, who support al-Assad’s regime. They came inside Syria to get information to help the regime. It was the same for American TV channels, like CNN, who share their information with the Syrian regime, to help them against the opposition.
So, the fighters of the opposition arrested many journalists, because they were spies. And the opposition took money for their liberation, instead of executing them, like you and your Italian friend… nobody helps the opposition, and we need money.
PPdP – But! Domenico and I, we were not spies!
Jihadist – No! No! But, look, Pierre… We had doubts and we arrested you, because we thought you were spies.
PPdP – But, after you understood that we were not… That we were friends of the revolution… You kept us, nevertheless. During five months! And you asked money for our freedom.
Jihadist – Yes… It is right…
OK. I tell you…
On the other hand, journalists were absolutely not useful for the opposition. Even though they wrote and spoke about the conflict in Syria, the West didn’t do anything to help us. And the situation is that we need money to buy food and weapons.
God will forgive the Islamic opposition for that…
PPdP – I remember… One day, when I was your prisoner, you told me: “We don’t fight for the revolution; we fight for God!” What did you mean, exactly? I would like to understand you better…
Jihadist – Oh! Yes… Your memory is impressive! You don’t forget anything.
Let me explain: for us, Islamic people, the human rules are valueless. We obeythe rules of God. Allahou akbar!
This revolution is one thing, but we fight to go ahead, for Islam, not only in Syria, but for the world.
And we want to die a good death. If we do, we are sure to go to Paradise. Do you understand how important it is for us? Fighting in Syria, we have the chance to go to Paradise! I know that it is difficult for you, western people, to understand us –I mean: Islamic people- ; because you don’t believe in God… But that is our point of view and our way of life. We fight because Allah will give us a reward, if we are injured or if we die. Paradise.
So, we don’t fight for the revolution, not only. We have the goal to create an Islamic State in Syria. I support the Islamic State for Syria. Even in these circumstances; we know that not all Syrians support this idea and that many groups have others wishes for the revolution; many groups want to control the State after the revolution. And we understand that the creation of the Islamic state will be very difficult.
We know that we will have to fight these groups; that is the reality and we have to accept the reality.
PPdP – I would like to understand… You were a student in English literature, in Homs’ University, weren’t you? How did you become a “jihadist”? Why didn’t you join the Free Syrian Army? The FSA doesn’t kidnap people… What does your family think about your choice? How did you become an “Islamist”?
Jihadist – No, no! You don’t understand, Pierre… I was already an Islamist before the revolution, when I was student. My friends at university and my relatives where Islamist. It is not a matter for my family. I told you: we are believers in God; it is our way of life!
Every man, every civilisation has their own beliefs. Is that clear for you? There are differences… Cultural, economical, religious differences… Every country has its own way of thinking. We have our beliefs. You cannot tell us what we have to believe or not.
I believe in Islam. Am I a “terrorist” because I believe in Islam?
You have to understand that the large majority of Syrians are Islamists; but western people don’t know that, because we were not allowed to tell it, to show it.
Now, I divide the history of my life into two parts: before and after the revolution. Before the revolution, the regime was too strong; it had a hand on each person, and it was not possible to live as an Islamist in Syria. After the revolution, we are free to live as our faith commands us to live.
The right way, in Islam, is the Islamic State, as taught by the Prophet Mohammad. Peace and blessings be upon him! The Prophet Mohammad established that State. So, the right way is to continue as the Prophet told us, as the first generation of Islam did.
PPdP – Do you know that what you did in Syria –kidnapping western journalists and the jihad- make the West worried? You will not have any more support from Europe and USA…
Jihadist – Like I told you, it is not important…
In any case, the West has never supported our revolution. Since the beginning until now, Europeans and Americans didn’t support the Syrian revolution!
They don’t support Islam and they will never support Islam. OK?
We cannot avoid the conflict between religions. Since the beginning of history and until the end of the world, we have to accept this conflict. Between Christians and Islam; and between Jews and Islam. So, few people in the western countries support us, because they are Christians and they fight against Islam.
So, catching journalists –European or American people, I mean- will not change anything for our revolution. That will not change anything in the Syrian crisis.
PPdP – I have a very personal question for you… After the five months I spent in Syria as a hostage and after all my family suffered, what do you have to say to my parents, to my mother and to my father?
Jihadist – I have nothing to say… I make war.
I will nevertheless advise them not to let you come back to Syria, not to let their son, Pierre, enter Syria again. Syria is perhaps, now, the most dangerous place on earth. Especially for journalists and people working in humanitarian organizations, for all western people…
But now I have a question for you!
The Italian government paid for you and Domenico. So, why are you sad? What’s the matter for you? You didn’t pay any cent of your own! And, now, you are cool and fresh… What’s the matter?
PPdP – You refuse to understand that it is not only an economical matter. For my old parents, these five months were terrible. During the two months you kept us in al-Qusayr, waiting for a possibility to leave the city under siege, you never gave any news to my family. My parents didn’t know anything. I disappeared. That was all. They were desperate. They thought that, perhaps, I was dead; or, perhaps, that I was in jail, being tortured by the services of the regime.
Jihadist – Yes, yes… But, think about that: I didn’t see my parents since more than two years. And they never know if I’m alive or not. That’s war! A lot of families, in Syria, lost a son, a brother, a father… That’s war! You chose to come to my country. You were concerned by our war. And, because of that, your family was concerned too.
PPdP – You are partly responsible of what happened to me. And you have nothing else to say…
Jihadist – Yes, yes… That’s right. But I was good with you. Not every time; but I was good…
PPdP – Another subject… What do you think about the Islamic State for Iraq and the East (ISIE)? The Al-Nusra Front doesn’t like it…
Jihadist – ISIE is not on the right way. They do a lot of mistakes. They are an obstacle between us and the victory over Bashar al-Assad. They will delay our victory. And we, as Islamists, ask them to leave Syria. But they fight against us, against Jabhet al-Nusra and against the Free Syrian Army. We don’t understand what they want. And we notice that the regime’s forces never attacked them. Why?
PPdP – What do you do with the money you have received for my freedom?
Jihadist – It is very simple: we have no support from outside Syria –I mean, from other countries. Even from the Gulf; they stopped helping us. So, we needed this money, to buy weapons, food, medicine, and so on. We have no choice, if we want to survive and to continue to fight.
PPdP – Did you know whether our kidnapping was organized a long time before it happened? Or was it decided the same day you caught us?
Jihadist – I don’t have any details about the organization of your arrest. You arrived under my control, in my group. But I don’t know who gave the order to arrest you. I cannot tell you more about the reason and the organization of your arrest.
PPdP – Why did you accept to meet me and to answer my questions?
Jihadist – Because you are my friend! Are you?
I answered your request, because you are my friend. I know that you are with us, for the revolution. And you are not an enemy of Islam.
By the way, I didn’t contact your Italian friend. Because he doesn’t like us. He doesn’t know anything about Syria. He refused to learn Arabic to speak with us, as you did. He just wanted to write an article, but he didn’t know anything about our culture, our groups, and our goals. He is an old man and he is not suitable to be my friend. You know very well the Arabs and Syria. So, you are my friend…
I know that other groups, which kept you, harmed you. But, with me, you were not so badly treated… Were you?