Friday, July 5, 2013

A Former UAE Colonel Dies in Syria

It is well know that Muslim males, from teenagers to middle aged men, are travelling to Syria to fight, and in some cases die, with the Sunni rebels. The stories of some of these martyrs, which are told on social media and web forums, tie together events from across the Muslim world. Muhamed al-Abdouli from the Fujairah Emirate in the UAE is one of these martyrs. 
al-Abdouli as an officer in the UAE military

As a young man, al-Abdouli joined the UAE's military, rising through the ranks to colonel. Despite his successful military career, al-Abdouli got involved in opposition politics and was reportedly imprisoned in 2005 without a trial. At some point, al-Abdouli became the head of the Emirati Hezb al-Umma (Party of the Nation), an Islamist Gulf opposition movement with parties in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE.

While maintaining his position atop the Emirati Hezb al-Umma, al-Abdouli traveled to Syria sometime in 2012 where he joined the Salafi rebel group Ahrar al-Sham. al-Abdouli reportedly participated in several high profile battles including the capture of the Taftanaz and Jarah airbases, as well as Raqqa City where he died in early March 2013.

al-Abdouli making a statement from the cockpit
 of a captured fighter jet at Jarah Airbase
Al-Abdouli's story highlights a few interesting things. One is the depth of Hezb al-Umma's involvement with Syrian rebel groups. Not only did al-Abdouli, the head of Hezb al-Umma in the UAE, die fighting with the rebels, but both Hakem al-Matiri, head of Hezb al-Umma Kuwait, and Muhamed Mufrah, a leader of Hezb al-Umma in Saudi Arabia, are involved in financing Syrian rebel groups. This legacy of supporting a revolutionary movement overwhelmingly popular in the Sunni Muslim world may increase the appeal of Hezb al-Umma as it continues to challenge the authority of the Gulf monarchies.

Second, al-Abdouli's story highlights the diversity of experience that foreign fighters bring to the battlefield. Not only do foreign fighters range from young muslim males with no military experience to young men who have fought in Libyan or Iraqi armed groups, but some have learned military trade craft as officers in Middle Eastern militaries backed by the West.

al-Abdouli (bottom right) with Mohamed al-Mafrah (top left)
 and Hakim al-Matiri (top row, second from left)

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