Toronto mother Thwaiba Kanafani — female face of the Syrian revolution

BBC News reports: Just a few months ago, Thwaiba Kanafani was leading a normal life with her husband, six-year-old son and three-year-old daughter in Canada.

An engineer by training, she had been working in the oil industry.

But now she has left all that behind.

When we met up in the city of Adana in southern Turkey, she had just fled across the border from the Syrian city of Aleppo after a mission with rebel forces that went wrong.

Two male colleagues who were acting as her minders, were killed.

At the end of June she joined the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and was given a particularly dangerous role to fulfil.

As a woman she has able to move more easily around the streets of Aleppo than the men.

“Lots of women are working with me and we do a lot of spying work,” she says.

“We usually check the locations of regime people [military forces] and check where would be the best points to locate the Free Syrian Army.

“We also spy on high-ranking people in the government so we can help the FSA arrest and capture them.”

In the midst of all this, she speaks on the phone with her family every day to reassure them she is fine.

“I wonder why I am not afraid of being shot through the head,” she says pointing to her forehead.

“But sometimes when you face death, you lose your fear.”

Thwaiba Kanafani is one of a growing number of Syrians without any previous military experience who have joined the rebels.

There is a special training programme based in Turkey at secret camps run by the Turkish military, she says.

“The Turkish people are really helping us. Lots of people are getting training in those camps.”

“The training is really professional. You can only sleep four hours a day.

“You have to climb mountains, you get weapons training. It’s hard work.”

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also reported to be providing assistance for what has been described as a secret nerve centre for military aid and communications for the Syrian rebels.

This is reported to have been set up in Adana.

None of these countries has confirmed the existence of the base.

The Times adds: A video put on the internet last month shows Mrs Kalafani, a petite figure in camouflage and carrying a belt of machine-gun bullets, delivering a clarion call to Syria’s revolutionaries. “I am engineer Thwaiba Kanafani, a lady from Syria,” she shouts, with 30 or more armed men around her. “I came from Canada to answer the call of my country.”

Her arrival has not been universally welcomed. Neither does she have kind words for all her allies. Dressed in Western clothes when we meet, Mrs Kanafani has little praise for some of the figures, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, jockeying for power within the revolution.

“I was watching the revolution. We felt very bad. The Syrian political opposition had no strategy. They were totally useless,” she says. “We need structure . . . that is what I was working on.” But she says she is being thwarted. “When we launched a steering committee the Muslim Brotherhood were, like, they had to own it. They are destroying the revolution to control it later on.”

Mrs Kanafani, the daughter of a middle-class Syrian family in Hama, says she was always an independent spirit. She has powerful memories of President Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez, his notorious police state and its repression of the Brotherhood.

In 1995, she left Syria as a civil engineer and in 2002 moved to Canada. She has two children, Omar, 6, and Ghazal, 3. Her husband is less than enthused by her departure, she admits.

Now she is one of a small number of women deployed undercover in Syria for the rebels. “My role is to navigate, to see where the Syrian army is located, to help capture high-ranking people,” she says. Last week she was involved in a mission in Aleppo to identify the whereabouts of a senior figure from the Shabiha militia. “There was a lot of killing, which I hate,” she says, “but also a lot of victories for the FSA.”

She insists Syria is not, as some fear, doomed to a sectarian bloodbath between a Sunni majority and the Alawite sect of the ruling elite. “We are not here to kill Alawi people. We love them as brothers and sisters. There are Sunnis in the [regime] army. The FSA kills them. This is not sectarian. When we capture soldiers, we investigate them. If they are innocent of killing anyone, we release them.”

And if not? “If they are guilty, they are executed,” she says evenly. “We don’t have prisons to watch them.”

Her presence has aroused mixed feelings. Some Syrians praise her courage, others question her motives. “For me it is good to have a woman with no hijab representing the revolution,” says a comrade. “I respect her, but this is not a children’s game.”

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