اطلاق ابوعمر سجين من القاعدة -ابو غريب الى سورية Meet Abu Omar: Al Qaeda busted him out of Abu Ghraib. Now he has gone to fight in Syria

رئيس التحرير
2019.06.15 11:44

. BY HARALD DOORNBOS, JENAN MOUSSA

GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Waiting for the tram in the southern Turkish city of Gaziantep, Abu Omar is on his way to the mall. No groceries today -- his shopping list includes a Turkish-made tablet computer and a small GPS navigation device loaded with digital maps of the Middle East.

"Its nothing special," says Abu Omar, an Iraqi national, as he puts the goods in his rucksack. "But this stuff might come in handy after I make it to Syria."

Abu Omar, a handsome young man with long black hair, is not the only one making the trek to Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi prisoners -- mostly suspected or convicted jihadists -- were freed in July after al Qaeda-linked militants staged a deadly jailbreak at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. At the time, Iraqi and Western authorities feared that some of those men would travel to Syria, helping to fuel the rise of extremist groups there. Those fears have now become a reality.

Abu Omar is one of the al Qaeda members who escaped during the Abu Ghraib prison break. He says six of his former cellmates have also made it to Syria. "Many more are on their way," he says in a strong Iraqi Arabic accent. "Everybody wants to go for jihad to Syria."

Abu Omar sees the Syrian war as much more than a struggle against a brutal dictator. For him, its a war against unbelievers, and its ultimate aim is the establishment of an Islamic government that transcends the borders of the modern Middle East. "Syria and Iraq are the same struggle to us," he explains. "Both governments in Iraq and Syria are run by unbelievers, so we will fight both. Syria is currently very weak and close to falling into the hands of the mujahideen [jihadists]."

Abu Omar refuses to give his exact age, saying only that he is in his 20s. We were able to contact him through a Syrian activist in Turkey known for his close links to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), al Qaedas branch in Iraq and Syria. The jihadi organization, which is an extension of al Qaedas longtime networks in Iraq, has been growing in prominence in Syrias north and east and has even recently clashed with several more moderate rebel groups.

Abu Omar spent 26 months imprisoned in Abu Ghraib, which gained notoriety in 2004 after shocking pictures were published of American guards torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners. He was imprisoned on terrorism-related charges, but claims he is innocent of any crime. According to him, the experience of being locked up in Abu Ghraib led to his radicalization. "When I was in prison I met a lot of ISIS inmates," he says. "They convinced me of their ideas. Their ideology of creating a caliphate is the best, and I decided to join them in their fight."

The prison break gave him the opportunity to make good on his word. It was a massive operation: Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed that it used suicide bombers, rocket-propelled grenades, and 12 car bombs in the assault on the Abu Ghraib compound, freeing over 500 inmates. According to the Iraqi government, 29 security personnel were killed in the attack

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