A Sputnik reporter met with a militant from Turkmenistan, who was taken prisoner, to ask him why he had decided to leave his peaceful life at home and join the war in Syria, as well as about his life in the captured territories. Here is what he had to say.
ONE-ON-ONE WITH THE MILITANT
After a thorough examination at a checkpoint in a Damascus prison I was allowed to go to the senior officer's room in the counterterrorism department.
When I was already in the interrogation room, a prisoner from Turkmenistan – Rushan Kazakov – was brought in. Much to my surprise, he was dressed neatly and had a traditional long beard. There was no sign of repentance and complete confidence in his eyes.
“I’m 35. I have a wife and five children. I finished nine grades at school and worked as a taxi driver. My family is involved in farming and we have enough money. We are not poor,” Kazakov said.
Kazakov said that his preparation was a stage by stage process that dragged on for six months. Before he departed, he was regularly given “Islamic lessons” and schooled in Islamic literature. After five months of tuition, his teachers said that he was ready to go to war in Syria “in the name of Islam.”
“Before sending me to Syria, they gave me a CD with Islamic teachings in Turkish and Arabic. These teachings call Muslims throughout the world to join the jihad, regardless of their country of origin or numbers, even if they are in the United States,” he said.
The militant and people like him were convinced that “Muslim blood is being shed” in Syria and that they are duty bound to go and help their brothers build a caliphate so that Islam could spread across the world.
THE PATH TO THE SYRIAN WAR
To go to Syria, Kazakov had to sell his car and buy a ticket to Istanbul, where he got in touch with a man whose telephone number he had received from Ishan.
“In Istanbul, I got in touch with Mustafa, a Turkmen. He lived with his wife and children and another two people from Turkmenistan, who were preparing to go to Syria for the jihad. I stayed a day with them, after which Mustafa, the two men, and myself went to the border town of Hatay,” he recounted.
In Hatay, the five terrorists took a car to Syria. There were Turkish border guards on the border, but they did not prevent them from crossing, he said. In a Syrian border town, they were sent to a guest house where they met with the local emir, who was named Abu Jihad and was from Dagestan.
The emir explained that they would be his guests for the following three days. He told them about the war in Syria and the groups fighting there. The young militants were free to choose what group to join, he said: the Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham, the Free Army or the Muhajireen Brigade.
INITIATION CEREMONY AT THE FOREIGN BATTALION
As Kazakov decided to join the Muhajireen Brigade, he was sent to its leader, whose name has been repeatedly cited in Arabic and foreign media: Abu Omar Shishani of Chechen descent.
“After I swore allegiance to Emir Shishani, they took my passport and sent me to the city of Kafr Hamrah [Aleppo Province, in northern Syria], where there was a large number of foreigners from various countries, including Chechens. They did not call one another by name but used aliases,” the militant said.
Kazakov was assigned to work at an underground plant that manufactured explosives. The plant director was an Egyptian. A month later, his wife with all of their children, joined Kazakov.
“Before going, I left two notes, one for my wife and the other for my parents. I told my parents that I was going to work in Turkey and I told my wife that I was going to Syria for the jihad and that she was to join me as soon as I told her,” he said.
In the group of 35 militants from Turkmenistan, Kazakov was appointed “emir” due to his age. Before he was taken prisoner, Rushan and his associates had prepared car bombs to attack a candy factory and the central prison in Aleppo.
Replying to the question of whether he regretted going to Syria, the militant said: “I was with the Muhajireen Brigade for two and a half months. I’m a fighter and I want my son to be the same kind of fighter. I have taught him to use weapons and he will be able to fight against the Syrian regime.”
According to Kazakov, he was captured by the Syrian military when he and his men lost their way from their base camp to a nearby town.
On their way there, they met a local who gave them directions and they ran into a military post. Thinking that it was a Free Army post, they said they were foreigners and asked for directions to the town of Andan, which was under rebel control at the time. When the servicemen said “welcome, you’ve arrived,” the militants realized that the men in camouflage fatigues were Syrian Army servicemen.
Officers at the antiterrorism department did not tell me very much about Kazakov’s family. I was relieved to learn, however, that one of his sons, Abdullah, was adopted by a Syrian family from Latakia. The boy now lives a normal life and is preparing to go to school.
Syria has been mired in a civil war since 2011. The country's government is fighting a number of opposition forces as well as radical Islamist militant organizations, including ISIL.