Fursan al-Sham Media was set up in September 2016 as a messaging outlet from inside Syria for the jihadist groups in the insurgency, notably Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria, and Ahrar al-Sham. On 14 January 2017, Fursan al-Sham Media had an interview with Abu Bakr al-Britani, a British jihadist who had journeyed to Syria and presumably joined JFS. The interview is reproduced below.
It is notable that Abu Bakr is presented as being moved to go to Syria by the suffering of Sunni Muslims at the hands of the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allies in Iran and Russia. It has long been obvious that al-Qaeda benefits from atrocities by the pro-regime coalition—and perceived Western indifference to same. As the pro-Assad coalition savaged Aleppo at the end of last year, “The CIA and the Joint Staff [both] said that the fall of Aleppo would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria.” At the same time, it is quite clear that Abu Bakr was mobilized by the jihadi clerics, who used Syria’s suffering for their recruitment, and that Abu Bakr had been drawn into that world by the video-sermons of Anwar al-Awlaki, the ever-present common denominator for English-speaking jihadists, despite al-Awlaki being killed in 2011.
What was it that made you take that step towards hijra [emigration]?
Subhan’Allah [glory be to god], living in the U.K. is very difficult. I felt as if I was imprisoned, you know you can’t really express your feelings, in case you’re being watched by the secret services or suspicion could be raised about you, it’s very difficult for someone who has such passion for the Muslim umma [community] to be able to express his feelings.
So Subhan’Allah Ya’ani, it’s not easy to read news regarding ahl al-sunna [the Sunnis] in Syria, where you are oppressed because you simply believe in Allah, follow the Sunna of the Prophet (SAW). Watching videos of innocent and helpless Muslims getting tortured by the regime, similar to Iraq, Burma and other Muslim countries. Alongside these I was inspired by a few mashaykh [religious scholars] who would always talk about the situation of the Muslim umma and had links with jihad.
They spoke about how jihad would bring back the pride of Islam that we once had—such as Shaykh Abu Qatada al-Filistini [real name: Umar Othman], Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi [real name: Issam al-Barqawi], Shaykh [Abdallah] al-Muhaysini, because he was active in Syria, may Allah preserve them. And Shaykh Anwar al-Awlaqi, who really had a big impact on me, I used to watch him at a young age, my family would always watch his lectures until it got to a point where he went to Yemen to join al-Qaeda. My parents, may Allah protect them, would then discourage me to follow his videos.
How did you go about making preparations for hijra, and were your family aware about you leaving them?
In terms of planning the routes, Allah made it easy for me, very easy to find hotel bookings, finding the tickets were not really an obstacle, you know it took maybe less than an hour to get everything sorted out. In terms of planning, Alhamdulillah [praise be to god], Allah made it easy.
In terms of navigating my way from Turkey to Syria, Allah made it easy. At times I thought to myself, “that’s it, I’m going to get caught and sent back,” when I got my passport taken off me in Turkey and inspected by the police; I could feel my heart pounding intensely, my knees shaking but, Subhan’Allah, once I began remembering Allah and the verse in Surah Al-Baqarah: “Allah has set a seal upon their hearts and upon their hearing, and over their vision is a veil” [Al-Baqarah; 2:7]. Allah blinded the kuffar [unbelievers] and I arrived safely.
In terms of letting my parents know, I told them whilst I was in Turkey that I was in Syria, because I got nervous when I accidentally answered a phone call from them. They wanted to know where I was because I was out of my house for so long, roughly four days.
Before I left I told them I went to visit my cousin in another city but unfortunately that failed because they contacted him. I really couldn’t say anything, when I spoke to my parents I kind of began to stutter, I got really nervous, they began to suspect so I just told them.
I told them I was in Syria with hope they wouldn’t call the police and they had known where I was and they wouldn’t panic as much but the opposite had occurred. If you really want to participate in jihad fi sabilillah [jihad for the sake of god] and your heart is pure and your niyya [internal intention] is for the sake of Allah, Allah will find you a way out from every hardship. Alhamdulilah, they constantly make dua [calls on god] for me now.
What were the items you took when coming to Syria?
While preparing to come to Syria the expectations I had of it was that it was going to be similar to Afghanistan, as a result I brought with me many items which I didn’t need and some of which can be found in Syria. One thing which I overloaded in my luggage was clothes some of which I would not need later. As a fighter, the best thing for one to wear is combat gear, which is provided here, or you can buy some using your own money. I also brought with me daily hygiene items which can be found in Syria.
An advice for those wanting to take part in Hijra to Syria:
My first advice would be to not procrastinate and let the whispering of Shaytan [the devil] hinder you from this path. If you’re not ready, start preparations today. In terms of saving money, and even learning Arabic, [then] prepare yourself spiritually by increasing in good deeds and dua for Allah to make things easy for you. Take full measures to ensure your hijra goes well and put your trust in Allah.
Jazak Allahu khayr [may god reward you with goodness] for conducting this interview with us.
 I was contacted by Fursan al-Sham Media on Twitter on 19 January to protest the original wording of this post that described them as a pro-JFS outlet, noting that this is not how they described themselves and, while they do favour JFS, they have in fact represented fighters from other jihadi groups like Ahrar al-Sham. So the wording above has been corrected and their full statement is reproduced here.
 Clearly what Abu Bakr means is that it is difficult to live in Britain as a jihadist, which is an encouraging change of circumstance from the 1990s. The feeling of imprisonment when men have gone over to jihadism and cannot get to a jihadi theatre is a common one. Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan in their book on the Islamic State spoke with Abdelaziz Kuwan, a Bahraini, who fought in Syria, initially with the mainstream opposition, then with Ahrar al-Sham, then al-Qaeda, and eventually the Islamic State, for whom he was killed. At one point in 2012, Kuwan returned home and his family confiscated his passport. “I walk in the streets and I feel imprisoned,” Kuwan said. “I feel tied up. … This world means nothing to me. I want to be free. I want to go back. People are living their lives [by waging jihad]. That’s the honourable life.” Similar thoughts were expressed by Mohammed Emwazi (Abu Muharib al-Muhajir), better known as “Jihadi John” in the newspapers of his native Britain, who wrote in 2010, after being prevented from leaving the country by security services who knew he was a long-time jihadist, “I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London. A person imprisoned and controlled by security service men, stopping me from living my new life.”
 Muslims drawn to Syria to defend Sunnis from sectarian persecution and massacre by the Assad regime and its allies was an early trend in Syria, and one on which al-Qaeda continues to play. The Islamic State still presents itself as the last line of defence for Sunnis, which helps mobilize foreign terrorist attacks and quell internal dissent, but it has also altered its emphasis to the legitimacy of its right to rule over Syrians, the caliph having directly stated: “Syria is not for the Syrians, and Iraq is not for the Iraqis. The earth is god’s” (and by a stroke of luck, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been appointed god’s representative in this matter).