Syrian rebels prepare for an offensive against government forces in the northern city of Aleppo.(AFP Photo / Achilleas Zavallis)
Around half of the rebel fighters in Syria are foreign Islamists who aren’t interested in toppling the Assad regime. Instead, they’re seeking to implement Sharia law throughout the country, according to a prominent French doctor.
The co-founder of the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, Jacques Beres, discovered some interesting information while treating Syrian rebels in the besieged city of Aleppo.
According to Beres, 60 per cent of his patients during his two week service in Syria were rebels– and about half of those were foreign. He says the fighters aren’t focused on the fall of the Assad regime. Instead, they have their eyes on a different kind of prize – implementing Sharia law throughout the country.
"It's really something strange to see. They are directly saying that they aren't interested in Bashar Assad's fall, but are thinking about how to take power afterward and set up an Islamic state with Sharia law to become part of the world Emirate," the French doctor told Reuters.
The foreign jihadists include Frenchmen who believe they are waging a “holy war,” claiming they’re inspired by Mohammed Merah, an Islamist militant from the French city of Toulouse. Merah killed seven people in March, in the name of Al-Qaeda.
"Some of [the patients] were French and completely fanatical about the future," he said. "They are very cautious people, even to the doctor who treated them. They didn't trust me, but for instance they told me that Mohammed Merah was an example to follow,” Beres said.
The Syrian government has consistently maintained that the uprising against Assad is being orchestrated from outside the country and is the work of “foreign-backed terrorists.”
It’s a claim that Beres denied until his recent two-week stint in Aleppo.
Beres spoke of treating rebel fighters from other Arab countries as well, but says his list of patients included at least two Frenchmen.
But the list of nationalities continues to grow – jihadist fighters from Britain have joined the fight as well.
The inflow of foreign fighters has even worried some Syrian rebels, who have accused them of being “too extreme.”
As the uprising enters its 18th month, the home countries of foreign rebels are worried, too.
Paris has expressed concern in recent years that French radical Islamists who have traveled to lawless zones would return to plot terrorist attacks at home. This was the case for Mohammed Merah, who traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan before organizing the Toulouse shooting.