Last week I was reading a piece in the Irish Times that outlined a court case in Rotterdam that found two Dutch men, identified only as Mohammad G and Omar C, guilty of readying themselves to travel to Syria and 'preparing to commit murder' on behalf of the rebels. (Who the rebels are is another question after almost three years of fighting).
Contained within the story was a line that said that for countries of their population, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland are providing more foreign fighters than any one else for the rebels. One of these fighters is Libyan - Irishman, Hosam Najjair, aka Irish Sam.
It's worth remembering that in the interweb universe there are lots of stories concerning foreign fighters in Syria. The one that caught my eye was one entitled
IRISH MERCENARIES TRAINING SYRIAN DEATH SQUADS
The article describes how 'Irish military elites...'
...train clerico fascists and counter revolutionaries in Syria, extreme right wing thugs who behead, torture, slaughter and abuse women; these hordes of a decadent empire in its death throes, sent into smash the last bastion of people's resistance (that would be everybody's favourite eye surgeon, Assad) against Zionism and Imperialism in the Middle East
You get the tone of the article. It then goes on to show a picture, purportedly of I assume, an Irish merc training these clerico fascist revolutionaries, although a glance at the caption confirms otherwise
This is a trainer, but we do not know his background, Irish or otherwise
So, you pays your money and you takes your choice.
Irish Sam however is very real and we do know about his background. Born in Ireland and now in his mid 30's, he was raised in Dublin to an Irish mother and Libyan father and first came to attention after fighting for the anti Gaddafi rebels in Libya. He told a reporter that
I knew I could make a difference and had many talents to offer, namely being a fluent English speaker which could help the media aspect for the rebels, discovering my fighting talents and what I was made of as a soldier was a bonus and gave me new goals to achieve
Sam was fighting in Libya as part of the Tripoli Brigade, where it seems his skills as a sniper and weapons expert were put to good use. The Tripoli Brigade was a force founded and led by his brother in law, another Irish - Libyan called Mehdi al - Harati.
Following his time in Libya, Sam returned to Ireland where he decided to write a book about his experiences, Soldier for a Summer, including stories
...of a captured 19 year old girl sniper who had killed 16 men, and stories of African and Ukrainian mercenaries, and the horrors they inflicted on the Libyan people
In early 2012 Sam reunited with Harati, this time in northern Syria, via Turkey's porous border, and in a new fighting force the Liwa al Umma, where his Libyan experiences proved invaluable as at the time the rebels had very little practical experience of urban warfare. After six months of fighting Assad's army and training rebel forces, Sam re crossed the border into Turkey and headed back to Ireland. Interviewed by Newsweek earlier this year he talked about his fears for the increasing radicalisation of the opposition within Syria, and
...he worries for young men who will join the cause for romantic notions. The Free Syrian Army is disintegrating, but while it is still "the people's army - it is being weakened" by the more fundamentalist groups.
Supporting the Assad's regime is Hezbollah, who have decades of tough street fighting experience behind them.
Hezbollah are strong fighters, used to urban warfare. My message to young men wanting to fight in Syria is, 'Don't Go! Do not think of going over. The Army does not need manpower. There is a lot of humanitarian work you can do. But fighting is suicide.
Whilst he is right to fear the fighting efficiency of Hezbollah and the romantic notions of young Muslim men heading off to fight in the Middle East's version of the Spanish Civil War, he points out that it was his own sense of a disconnection as an Irish Muslim with Ireland and strong identification with the Sunnis of Libya and then Syria that decided his actions.
Idealistic young men, (it is estimated that 20 Irishmen have fought in Syria), radicalised by preachers, seductive websites and what they see on the tv will continue to go to Syria to fight. Two of the most recent victims were a 16 year old Navan schoolboy Shamseddin Gaidan and 22 year old Hudhaifa el Sayed from Drogheda. The circumstances of the teenagers death are unclear and el Sayyed was shot and killed in northern Syria at the end of 2012.
The chances are that more young Irishmen will die on the battlefields of Syria before some sort of peace descends on this beautiful but benighted country.