Nouakchott — Thousands of Maghreb youths may now be fighting in Syria, waging war not for a new democratic government, but for an Islamist state, experts say.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, a number of Maghreb young people have decided to continue their struggle by taking up arms and joining jihadists in Syria.
The young Maghreb militants have linked up with Syrian opposition groups seeking to topple the regime of Bashar al-Assad, including al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb fighters are reportedly among the latest arrivals to the Syria battle.
"Young people from different Maghreb countries are fighting alongside these organised groups in Syria," confirmed Lies Boukraa, who heads the Algiers-based African Centre for Studies and Research on Terrorism (CAERT).
"Those young people primarily belong to different jihadist groups that have sworn allegiance to the parent al-Qaeda organisation, and the policy of the latter says that any country witnessing a war against regimes is a suitable land for jihad," Boukraa told Magharebia.
"Therefore, those young jihadists have to join that jihad to realise al-Qaeda's goals for establishing an Islamic state after the fall of existing regime," he added.
Boukraa said that he did not have accurate statistics about the number of Maghreb young people in Syria. However, he warned against the potential fallout from the presence of foreign fighters in a post-war Syria.
"In case al-Assad's regime falls, problems will arise in Syria between the jihadist groups that seek to establish an Islamic regime and the secular opposition, exactly like what happened in other countries where secular regimes were toppled in Maghreb and elsewhere," he said.
A number of press reports have documented Maghreb fighters in Syria. El Khabar reported in December that several Maghreb fighters were killed in a recent Syrian air strike on Idlib.
El Khabar cited Al Vourghan Brigade, which fights alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, as saying that an Algerian man with an alias of Abou Khaithama was killed in an air strike launched by Syrian fighter planes, and that at least two more Algerians, eight Moroccans and a large number of Libyans were also killed.
The Algerian newspaper also disclosed the names of a few of the fighters killed alongside al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. The jihadists reportedly included Algerians, Tunisians, Mauritanians and a large number of Libyans.
Meanwhile, Kapitalis on February 4th published a "preliminary list" of 28 names of Tunisian jihadists known to have been killed fighting in Syria.
"The presence of those young people is expected if we take into consideration that jihadist ideology doesn't recognise borders or political divisions of states," explained Mauritanian journalist Said Ould Habib. "The terrorists have their own logic in dividing countries between land of kufr, land of jihad, and land of Islam and they call Syria the Levant."
"Islamist movements usually take advantage of armed chaos in countries witnessing revolutions and their goals and strategies are temporarily unified with the revolutionaries," Ould Habib added.
According to the analyst, these movements "reveal their true intentions once victory has been achieved".
"Then they start planning to establish an Islamic state because they basically reject democracy and the concept of freedom and civil state," he added.
The analyst noted that some Maghreb fighters in Syria have infiltrated the country from Iraq, using their old network of ties.
Arabi-press.com reported similar information December 26th, saying many Libyan fighters from Benghazi, Derna, Zintan, and Misrata were in northern Syria.
They reportedly represented 40% of fighters. The most prominent among them are Khalid al-Aqouri and Mehdi al-Harati, former commander of Tripoli Martyrs Brigade in Libya and now a commander in Syria.
A number of the Maghreb fighters joined the Syrian conflict after being urged by radical imams. France 24 reported last August that some of the fighters received religious recommendations from Maghreb salafist sheikhs who blessed the "praiseworthy jihad in Syria" and called for "supporting" the fighters there.