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Wednesday 1 October 2014

Irish fighters: we're soldiers of summer, not jihadists

Fighters deny they share anti-Western attitude

Published 23/08/2014 | 02:30

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Kurdish Peshmerga forces stand guard near the town of Makhmur, south of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan after Islamic State (IS) insurgents withdrew

MANY Irish Muslims fighting in Syria consider themselves "soldiers of summer" rather than jihadist combatants.

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Researchers who interviewed Irish fighters and their families found they denied being jihadists or terrorists and expressed other motivations for taking up arms.

Their findings, published in an EU-funded report, come as gardai monitor the movements of up to 30 Irish-based Muslims who travel regularly to the conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.

The rise of the ultra-violent and repressive Islamic State in the region has prompted fears about the potential radicalisation of Irish Muslim fighters travelling there and the security risk they pose when they return to Ireland.

The report, by EuRad - a body which fights radicalisation and homegrown terrorism in the EU - found that the stereotype of foreign fighters as jihadists or terrorists was true in some cases. But it also concluded that "many young men go to war theatres for the most disparate drives and purposes".

One of its authors, Dublin-based Libyan Adam Argiag, said he had found no evidence to date of Irish fighters joining the Islamic State and no one voicing public support for it within the Irish Muslim community. The report said the families of two Irish volunteers known to have died in Syria denied the involvement of their sons in jihad.

One of these, Egyptian Hudhaifa El Sayed (23), lived much of his life in Drogheda, Co Louth and is believed to have died while fighting for anti-Assad rebels in December 2012.

In an interview shortly before his death, El Sayed said he joined the fighting to defend the weak and help build peace.

According to the EuRad report, Housam an-Najjar, an Irish-Libyan who has returned home from the Syrian frontline after fighting with the Liwa' al-Ummah group also objected to being described as a jihadist.

"Men like an-Najjar belong to the category of the 'legionnaires of adventure', 'soldiers of summer' that do not share the anti-Western attitude of jihadist movements such as those linked to al-Qa'ida," it stated.

The report was completed before the emergence of one suspected Islamic State fighter who describes himself as Irish-Nigerian and has been using social media and an encrypted messaging service to urge Muslims to travel from Europe to fight in Iraq and Syria.

He has been posting images of himself in combat fatigues and holding weapons, while also giving potential recruits advice on how to avoid detection by intelligence agencies when travelling to Syria.

Gardai and army personnel have been monitoring several such websites in an attempt to identify posters. Several British Muslims fighting with the Islamic State have posted similar messages on social media and web forums in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, a prominent Muslim figure in Ireland said the community here has been shocked by the actions of the Islamic State and the beheading of US journalist James Foley.

Ridiculous

Hussein Buhidma, the former head of the Muslim Association of Ireland, condemned the execution and said the militant group was "using our religion as a vehicle". He said: "Most of the Muslims I have spoken to think this is ridiculous, killing a journalist."

Despite concerns about the numbers travelling to the region, Mr Buhidma said he did not believe young Irish Muslims were joining the Islamic State.

"My understanding is that no youths are thinking about going there. To my knowledge none have left Ireland for the new state," he said.

He also expressed the view that conflicts raging in the Middle East could be resolved if parties followed the lead of political leaders in Ireland.

"Everything should be brought to the table, like what was done with the Good Friday agreement in Ireland. I believe even the longest-running conflict, the Palestinian issue, could be solved in this way," he said.

Irish Independent

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