The man who shot me now works for the CIA ~ report from The Times:
It was with some surprise watching a video of a victorious band of western-backed rebels that I noticed the face of America’s newest ally in the war against Isis in Syria.
It was the face of a man I last saw in May 2014 when he leant forward to shoot me twice in the left ankle at almost point-blank range while my hands were tied.
It was punishment for having attempted to escape his gang of kidnappers in northern Syria who had hoped to sell me on.
He shot me in the middle of a crowd of onlookers, after a savage preliminary beating, denouncing me as “a CIA spy”.
Now, it seems, he works with them.
Hakim Abu Jamal is now part of a CIA-backed Syrian rebel group
The grainy footage of the video — posted last month on Facebook — showed Hakim Abu Jamal waving his Kalashnikov in the air to proclaim a small victory, courtesy of US air power, on a dusty street in the border town of al-Rai.
I remember him well from across the years. Now, Hakim, forage cap on his head, was standing in the middle of a group of ten other Syrian rebel fighters all belonging to a CIA-vetted group.
The reason Obama and Kerry are trying so hard to sell a fabricated thesis for war, is because the real culprits and criminals in Syria are the armed rebels who are allied with, and armed by Washington, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In addition to this, Washington’s chief ally Israel has played a role in this deception, in order to have the US wipe out the air force and air defenses of its only military rival in its immediate vicinity.
Hakim Abu Jamal, who also goes by the names Abdel Hakim al-Yaseen and Hakim Anza, was among the hundreds of other Syrian rebels who crossed from Turkey into Syria two weeks ago to purge Isis.
Such men are the latest of the West’s allies against Isis in Syria. The rules which allow them American air support, money, weapons and ammunition have relaxed since early US attempts to train and equip rebel groups in the country became log- jammed with impossibly complex vetting procedures. They collapsed almost entirely last year.
Consequently, the new generation of coalition-backed rebel groups inside Syria, some 70 in all, may look a little more rough and ready than some of their supporters would choose, with shoddy human rights records to match.
Even so, I was surprised to see how Hakim, celebrating a short-lived victory in al-Rai on August 17, passed even the most rudimentary vetting by US or Turkish intelligence officers.
Anthony Loyd was beaten and shot twice by Hakim
In May 2014 I was kidnapped along with Jack Hill, a Times photographer, and two Syrian staff while driving between the Syrian town of Tal Rafat and the Turkish border after a week inside Aleppo.
Though aware that the area around Tal Rafat was renowned for its kidnap threat, at first we had no idea that Hakim, whom we had known for two years and who had hosted us the evening before, was behind our abduction.
But then, during a desperate and violent escape we found ourselves pursued by a gang of kidnappers led by the man whom only hours before we had assumed to be our friend: Hakim Anza.
Though our Syrian staff escaped, Jack and I were recaptured and beaten before I was shot twice in punishment. At the time he had boasted that he wanted us as kidnap bounty to fund the buying of anti-aircraft weapons.
His file is held by at least three separate intelligence agencies, including MIT, of Turkey, and MI6. His extremist links are well documented. Two of his brothers joined the al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front.
One of them spoke on record about his loyalty to al-Qaeda to The Times. Meanwhile The New York Times ran a story about a war crime committed by Hakim Anza in 2012.
Hakim Anza’s activities were brought to the attention of John Kerry, the US secretary of state, who spoke publicly of his concern for our ordeal. “We are keeping up a very focused effort to try to secure their release,” he said.
In his own words: Anthony Loyd recalls his abduction in Syria at the hands of Hakim
Last month, however, video surfaced of Hakim Anza proving that he was not only free, but was also serving in a CIA-vetted Syrian rebel group, First Regiment (al-Fawj al-Awwal), which was receiving US weaponry, including Tow missiles, as well as air strikes in support of their operations.
In between times he appears to be based in southern Turkey, where he takes orders from the Hawar Kilis Operations room.
Four US hostages were murdered in Syria in 2014. Two British hostages were also beheaded there. The memories of Britain and America must be short, for yesterday sources in the Free Syrian Army and US confirmed Hakim Anza’s membership of the CIA-backed group, in which he is sub-commander.
Centom, the US Central Command, did not respond to Times requests over three days this week to explain how such a well-known hostage taker with family connections to extremists could have passed US vetting procedures.
However, a Pentagon official, who preferred not to be named, described repeated US air support for a recent mission conducted by vetted Syrian rebel groups, where Hakim Anza was filmed with his men on August 17.
He has apparently transformed effortlessly from criminal pariah to a worthy foot soldier allied to Operation Inherent Resolve, the 60-nation coalition, motto “One Mission, Many Nations”, in the Middle East to fight Isis.
“The coalition executed multiple airstrikes in the vicinity of al-Rai from August 13 to 19 in support of vetted Syrian opposition forces and counter-Isil operations,” the US officer said.
Some Syrian activists familiar with Hakim Anza’s history were furious to see him on Facebook and Twitter, bragging of his exploits. “It’s amazing,” said one, speaking on condition of anony-mity, who knew Hakim and confirmed his identity in the video, “how a man like Hakim, with such a well-known criminal past, gets held up by America now as some kind of new hero, getting money and receiving airstrike support, while all the honest people from Tal Rafat live as refugees without any outside help in Turkey.”
Amnesty International finds it less surprising. Their briefing published in July this year on abductions, torture and summary killings by rebel groups in northern Syria — as well as the shelling of civilian areas by opposition forces — noted that at least two of the groups responsible for the worst offences in Aleppo and Idlib, including the al-Shamia Front with whom Hakim Abu Jamal recently served, were US backed.
Another group, the Nour al-Dine Zinki Movement, received US Tow missiles while part of an American-backed rebel alliance until last year, when its rights abuses, including likely involvement in the kidnapping of two Italians, cost the group western backing.
It most recently came to prominence in July this year, when one of its fighters was filmed cutting the head off a sick boy in a killing described by Amnesty as having “truly plumbed the depths of depravity”.
Nevertheless, members of Nour al-Dine Zinki were part of the operation backed by Turkish and American airpower to capture Jarabulus on August 24.
Vetting procedures have changed since America’s first cautious steps to train and equip selected Syrian rebel groups began in 2013. Then, coalition sources insist, each rebel candidate had to be vetted for any previous connection with radical groups, as part of a process that took up to three months.
The result of such tentativeness was disastrous. Coalition cash, as well as lethal and non-lethal support, came in a trickle, and before the programme gained momentum some of the first US-trained groups had been routed.
Parallel to this failure, however, a more strident co-ordination body was established in Turkey by the US and its allies with which to support selected groups.
The Northern Operation Command, Musterek Operasyon Merkerzi, is usually referred to by its Turkish acronym, MOM, and appears to be primarily responsible for vetting armed groups and co-ordinating the supply of lethal and non-lethal equipment, such as ammunition and fighters’ salaries.
Yet Syrian insiders say that vetting was the first casualty of the need to speed up support of coalition-backed armed groups. Individual vetting by coalition officers was eschewed for generalised assurances from commanders.
“There should be a human rights component to the vetting,” said Diana Semaan, Amnesty Syria researcher. “Eligibility [for support] should not just be a matter of who is ready to fight against Islamic State or Jabhat al- Nusra [the Nusra Front].”
This summer Amnesty has made recommendations to foreign powers, including Britain and the US, giving military backing to Syrian rebel groups, suggesting that they halt the flow of weaponry and money to groups responsible for human rights abuses. The US has yet to make a response.
The conflict between Turkey and the Kurds further entangled vetting procedures. Turkey considers the Kurdish YPG, America’s prime ally in Syria, as a terrorist threat and as much of an enemy to Turkish interests as Isis. Consequently, Turkey sees the US as having sided with one terrorist group, the YPG, to fight another one, Isis.
The recent Jarabulus operation was a case in point. Turkey was said to have used 1,800 Syrian rebels as infantry forces: rebels whose names had simply been reported as “cleared” by the Turks to the Americans. Hakim’s small group, whose affiliates often fought Kurds, was most likely among them after appearing earlier in al-Rai.
“The fact that someone like Hakim Anza has been able to slip through the cracks is certainly a means for concern,” said Charles Lister, senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and author of The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency.
“But there’s equally a possibility that Turkey may have pushed to have him personally involved from the start. Inevitably, anyone that a government ‘wants’ to have involved in a certain operation or to successfully pass through the vetting process, will do so with minimal obstruction.”
Recalling that day in 2014, I remember saying to Hakim as he drew the gun: “I thought you were my friend.” He replied: “No friends,” and squeezed the trigger. America would do well to consider Hakim’s past betrayal as it embraces its newfound ally.