As the situation in Syria continues to escalate, Tunisians are leaving their home country to join the fighting on the front lines between rebels and the Al Assad regime.
Tunisians are being fooled by Salafist Jihadists and lured into leaving their homes to fight in Syria, Khalaf el Mofteh, the Deputy Minister of Syrian Media, recently said on Attounsia TV.
They are being told, “The situation in Syria is a fight between the non-believing state and the people, who want to fight it,” he said.
Young people have also come from Turkey and other countries to fight, he said, although no exact numbers are available for the number of Tunisians who have been jailed and killed.
Most Tunisians, who fight in Syria, are killed, severely disfigured, and have their passports burned so they will be unidentifiable, Mofteh said.
“Those organizations who help youth enter Syria often change their passports,” he continued, adding that the Tunisian and Turkish governments should investigate whoever is sponsoring these missions.
Ahmed Youssef, a Syrian journalist and political analyst who supports the Al Assad regime, estimated that around 1,500 Tunisians are fighting in Syria.
“Their numbers were increasing but after realizing the real situation in Syria and the strength of the Syrian army, they retreated and are coming in smaller waves,” he said. “All those who come here with the same purpose of fighting the regime will be killed, and they deserve to be crushed by the army and rejected by the people.”
Youssef added that he believes they enter from the Turkish border with the complicity of Turkish intelligence services. Once the anti-Assad fighters enter an area, they attack its people and control it, he said.
Jabhat Ennasra, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, has recruited people, especially less fortunate Muslim youth from many different countries to fight in Syria, Youssef added.
He said they are supported in their efforts by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who want to bring down the Syrian state as part of “an American Zionist plan.”
Foreign fighters such as Tunisians are often the first to be killed; Youssef pointed to an incident recently in the Khan El Assal suburb of Syria where a number of bodies of those killed were buried in order to disguise their origins and identities.
But Omar Sheikh, a former spokesperson of the Syrian Transitional Council who opposes the Al Assad regime, claimed the number of Tunisians fighting in Syria could not surpass a few hundred mostly in the northern part of the country.
He said some of them come to Syria on their own and are there to support democracy and freedom.
“Syria does not need any more fighters, so what they do is voluntary, regardless of their religious or ideological backgrounds,” Sheikh said. “Why do we have to judge them as terrorists according to their looks? We all don’t find time to shave in Syria, so having a beard doesn’t mean you are there to fight.”
He added that “most of the Tunisians I met in Syria are respectful and well behaved, and some of them are doctors who have come to help.”