Footage of a young Tunisian man who says he just returned to the country after fighting in Syria for eight months has been widely circulated and once again raised questions and debates about Tunisians involved in the Syrian conflict.
Going under the name Abou Zayd Attounssi, the man said he originally went to Syria because he felt his religion required him to engage in jihad against “the enemy.”
But he said on the “Attasiaa Massaa” (9pm) talk show that he became disillusioned because “most of the fighters within the Free Syrian army are fighting for the spoils of war and the foreign aid they supposedly get.”
The show also featured the father of Hamza Rjeb, a 24-year-old disabled Tunisian man who went to Syria to fight. He said the Tunisian government should take full responsibility for his son’s situation and for allowing groups in the country to “brainwash” his son.
“For every Tunisian fighter brought to Syria, Qatar pays 3,000 dollars to the Syrian rebels,” Ahmed Youssef, a pro-Assad journalist, claimed in a conversation with Tunisia Live.
He added that “most of the Tunisians come from disadvantaged regions in Tunisia with low unemployment.”
When asked about the fate of Tunisians who fight in Syria, Youssef replied, “this is a war; there are no statistics. They are considered mercenaries.”
There are conflicting opinions about the exact number of Tunisians fighting in Syria. Omar Cheick, an anti-Assad journalist residing in Syria, claimed that the Tunisian presence does not exceed 1,000 and that they should stay at home instead of coming to Syria. But Youssef reported that more than 3,500 Tunisians are currently fighting in the country.
Although fighters such as Abou Zayd claim they went to Syria out of a sense of religious obligation, “Islam has been always a peaceful religion. Fighting in Syria has never been considered as a jihad,” Othman Battick, mufti of the Tunisian Republic, told Tunisia Live.
“This is why we are working closely with imams to raise awareness among Tunisian youth during Friday prayers,” he added.
Several media have also reported that 15 Tunisian women have become involved in the Syrian conflict by offering their bodies to rebel fighters.
Battick described such actions as “nonsense with no relation to Islam.”
When contacted for comment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it had no information related to Tunisians in Syria.