[Reader-list] first person account of a migrant fighter

Vivek Narayanan vivek at sarai.net
Tue Nov 16 12:05:12 IST 2004

If you haven't read it--

  The Guardian Thursday November 11, 2004

             'The only place I am going from here is heaven'

             Yemeni tells how he left family to join fighting

             Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in Falluja

>From inside a room in one of Falluja's safe houses came a beautiful 
voice reciting verses from the Qur'an and choking with tears. "If 
your fathers, your sons, your brothers, your wives, your tribe, your 
fortunes and your trade are more dear to your hearts than God, his 
prophet and the jihad in the name of God," chanted the voice, "be 
fearful of God then, he will never talk to the wrongdoers."

The room was half-lit, the walls were bare except for one picture of 

The only piece of furniture was a prayer mat in the middle of room 
twisted at an angle to face the south. A Kalashnikov rifle and an 
ammunition pouch were laid against the wall.

A pair of old trainers stood at the edge.

On the mattress sat a man with a small Qur'an in one hand and a 
set of prayer beads in the other. Sometimes his voice would be 
drowned out by the sounds of explosions rocking the city.

As he finished his prayers he stood up, held his hands high and 
started praying: "Oh God, you who made the prophet come out 
victorious in his wars against the infidels, make us come out 
victorious in our war against America. Oh God, defeat America and 
its allies everywhere. Oh God, make us worthy of your religion."

The man - tall, thin with a dark complexion, black eyes and a thin 
beard - arrived in Falluja six weeks ago. He spent a few days 
sharing a room with other fighters until they were distributed among 
the mujahideen units in the city. He was with a group of the Tawhid 
and Jihad stationed in the west of Falluja in the Jolan district where 
heavy fighting has been raging for the last two days.

Living with other Arab and Iraqi fighters, he was given the honour of 
leading the prayers because of his beautiful voice.

Anxiously waiting for the Americans outside a makeshift bunker, he 
told his story. He said he was not here because he loved death as 
death but because he perceived martyrdom as the most pure way 
in which to worship God.

He was, he said, a Yemeni religious student from the the capital 
San'a, who had been studying sharia law for six years, while 
working as minibus driver to support a pregnant wife and five 

He first tried to come to Iraq to fight the Americans during the war 
18 months ago.

"I wanted to come and fight for Islam. I met a Jordanian merchant 
who provided me with tickets to Syria and $100. He even drove me 
to the airport himself."

             Sent back

But once there, he was prevented from going any further by the 
airport police.

"I was wearing my jalabiya and a small turban and when the police 
asked me why I was going to Damascus I said, to work. They 
asked me what kind of work. I said to work for the salvation of my 
soul. And they sent me back."

He pointed at his cheap cotton trousers and said: "This time I 
learned the lesson and bought these."

For a year he went back to his studies and his family, forgetting 
Iraq and jihad. But the scandal of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib 
woke him up, he said.

His wife, a religious student working on her masters thesis, urged 
him to leave everything and go for jihad in Iraq.

"She told me they are doing this to the men, imagine what is 
happening to the women now. Imagine your sisters and me being 
raped by the infidel American pigs."

He suddenly realised his mistake, he said, and spent the night 

The next day he borrowed money for another journey - one that he 
described as his last. He was given a contact name in Aleppo, a 
city in the north of Syria, who would arrange for him to be smuggled 
across the border.

"I didn't tell anyone, I just told my wife. I borrowed a car from a 
friend and we went out to do some shopping. She bought me two 
trousers and a shirt. We went then to my father's house. I told my 
mother, forgive me if I had done anything wrong. She said, why? I 
told her nothing, I just want forgiveness from you and dad.

"She asked me if I was going to Baghdad. I said no. She hugged 
me and cried."

The fighter told how he went back home and sat with his wife and 
children, who had no idea that this was their last dinner with their 

"My favourite daughter came and sat in my lap and slept there. She 
opened her eyes and said, 'Daddy, I love you'."

Weeping as he spoke, he said: "You know these memories are the 
work of the devil trying to soften my heart and bring me back home. 
The only place I am going from here is heaven."

When he arrived in Damascus, he learned from other jihadi 
networks that the Syrians had tightened security on the border.

Other would-be mujahideen were waiting in small apartments in 
Damascus, Aleppo and Hams.

After a month he realised that the cleric who was running the 
smuggling network was working with the Syrian mukhabarat, the 
secret service, handing over the mujahideen to the police.

He fled, but in a small mosque in Aleppo, he met a young cleric 
who promised to help him reach Iraq.

The Yemeni was handed to another group which placed him in a 
small house with other jihadis for two weeks.

One night he was taken to a village on the Syrian side of the border 
in the north. "They came and said we are crossing today. It was a 
very scary journey. We had to lie still in the desert if we heard 
American helicopters.

"We spent two nights on the border in a village, then we were taken 
to another village to be given military training. Most of the brothers 
with me have never used a weapon in their life.

"I knew how to use an AK-47. After a few days they came and said 
we need fighters to go to Hit" - a town north-west of Baghdad.

There he joined a minibus filled with Arab fighters, driving through 
the night. They were escorted by two cars, he said, including a 
police car.

He produced his Qur'an from his pocket. "When I was in Syria, I 
bought seven copies of this, wrote the name of my wife and my five 
children on each and left the seventh empty - I didn't impose a 
name for the newborn on my wife. She called me later when I was 
preparing to cross and told me she has written on it 'shahid' - 

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