In this Channel 4 News exclusive, British and other western jihadi fighters are shown in Syria as never before – fighting and killing, shopping and preparing for a wedding. Inigo Gilmore reports.
The exclusive footage focuses on recruits from a hardline Sunni militia of more than 700 foreign fighters in the Katiba al-Muhajireen (the battalion of migrants) and follows Ibrahim al-Mazwagi, the first British fighter to die in Syria. He was killed in February this year, aged just 21.
The video is the first intimate access to the previously unseen lives of this band of jihadi brothers, and shows them fighting and killing on the frontlines, talking about jihad, and even getting married.
We can’t accept enemies of Allah for our religion – killing us, abusing our religion, belittling it, taking our lands. Ibrahim al-Mazwagi, British rebel fighter in Syria
Fighters from the west are flocking to Syria in growing numbers, with estimates that there are now about 80 British recruits in the country among as many as 700 Europeans.
In the footage, filmed by an American Muslim convert, Mazwagi can be seen conducting target practice and joining battles on the frontline. He justifies his decision to come to Syria and says: “Well, I’ve always known about jihad, seen the Mujahadeen on TV and everything.”
Later in an interview he adds: “Our religion is one of superiority and honour, you know. We can’t accept enemies of Allah for our religion – killing us, abusing our religion, belittling it, taking our lands. This is not something we stand for. So the Mujaheddin, those who practise jihad, are those who defend the Muslims.”
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Filmed over several months, the young British jihadi fighter can be seen shooting weapons, going shopping for cereal, and joining a key battle for a Syrian army base called Sheik Suleiman in western Aleppo. He talks about his family back in London and how they support his actions.
At one point, while hanging off the side of a truck, he is asked if his mother knows where he is and replies: “I remember I called my mother once. I told her I am going on an operation tomorrow.”
They are happy I’m taking my own path, doing my own thing and helping people. At the same time they don’t understand entirely why I’m here. Abu Islam, Canadian rebel in Syria
She said: “Make sure you’re not at the back. Go to the front.” Laughing, he adds: “I don’t think my mother loves me that much. No, I’m joking. She must love me for her to say that. Hamdullah (thank God), she understands.”
The Katiba al-Muhajireen, now part of a jihadi alliance, is comprised mostly of Chechen and Russian fighters but there are many other recruits from north America, Sweden, Britain and other European countries.
A Canadian recruit, who is a Muslim convert and goes by the name of Abu Muslim, can be seen in the battlefield and at a gathering in Aleppo carrying an assault rifle. Nearby, other members of the militia carry a black jihadi flag associated with al-Qaeda.
There have been claims that Islamic groups fighting in Syria have been involved in the torture and execution of prisoners.
I would rather fight in the path of Allah than be with my wife. I have unlimited time to spend with my wife after I die. Ibrahim al-Mazwagi
Talking about his parents in Canada, Abu Muslim says: “On the one hand, they are happy I’m taking my own path, doing my own thing and helping people. At the same time, they don’t understand entirely why I’m here.”
In the film Ibrahim al-Mazwagi prepares to marry a Muslim woman from Sweden and goes to choose a sheep for slaughter for his wedding banquet.
Later we see him on his wedding day celebrating at an unusual gathering, with a group of well armed jihadi fighters, many in combat fatigues and wearing balaclavas, while the women are in another room.
Asked when jihad ends for him, al-Mazwagi answers: “When I die.” Referring to what might happen to his wife if he dies, he says: “I would rather fight in the path of Allah than be with my wife. I have unlimited time to spend with my wife after I die.”
Sasha Joelle Achilli was a producer on this report