From Beirut, Mariam Karouny reports: Veteran fighters of last year’s civil war in Libya have come to the front-line in Syria, helping to train and organize rebels under conditions far more dire than those in the battle against Muammar Gaddafi, a Libyan-Irish fighter has told Reuters.
Hussam Najjar hails from Dublin, has a Libyan father and Irish mother and goes by the name of Sam. A trained sniper, he was part of the rebel unit that stormed Gaddafi’s compound in Tripoli a year ago, led by Mahdi al-Harati, a powerful militia chief from Libya’s western mountains.
Harati now leads a unit in Syria, made up mainly of Syrians but also including some foreign fighters, including 20 senior members of his own Libyan rebel unit. He asked Najjar to join him from Dublin a few months ago, Najjar said.
The Libyans aiding the Syrian rebels include specialists in communications, logistics, humanitarian issues and heavy weapons, he said. They operate training bases, teaching fitness and battlefield tactics.
Najjar said he was surprised to find how poorly armed and disorganized the Syrian rebels were, describing Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority as far more repressed and downtrodden under Assad than Libyans were under Gaddafi.
“I was shocked. There is nothing you are told that can prepare you for what you see. The state of the Sunni Muslims there – their state of mind, their fate – all of those things have been slowly corroded over time by the regime.”
“I nearly cried for them when I saw the weapons. The guns are absolutely useless. We are being sold leftovers from the Iraqi war, leftovers from this and that,” he said. “Luckily these are things that we can do for them: we know how to fix weapons, how to maintain them, find problems and fix them.”
Strangely, Reuters bills this as an “exclusive” report. It would more accurately be described as a footnote for a much more detailed report that Mary Fitzgerald did for Foreign Policy and the Irish Times a few days ago. It would appear that Karouny didn’t bother asking how it was that Najjar came to be invited to travel from Dublin to Libya to fight under Mahdi al-Harati’s command. Apparently she doesn’t know that Harati himself also comes from Dublin and that Najjar is Harati’s brother-in-law. (If on the other hand she did establish these details, it seems strange to have left them out of her report.)