The Syrian rebels, he said, sold him a Kalashnikov for $700 and taught him how to use it.
“I later learned that it belonged to a member of the unit that was martyred days before my arrival,” said Abu Ahmed, who was wounded and returned to Egypt after five weeks of fighting in Hama province.
The Assad regime has long complained to the United Nations about Turkey’s role in facilitating the entry of extremist fighters. The Syrian Foreign Ministry sent an angry letter in February to the U.N. Security Council that said Turkey “has turned its territory into camps used to house, train, finance and infiltrate armed terrorist groups, chief among them the al Qaida network and the al Nusra Front.”
Analysts who are typically highly critical of the Syrian regime’s claims concede that, on this matter, Assad’s Foreign Ministry isn’t too far off base.
O’Bagy, the researcher who recently returned from a two-week trip with the rebels, said the Turkish government not only allowed jihadists’ unimpeded crossing but also helped build up Nusra’s capabilities, especially when targets included the Turks’ longtime Kurdish foes.
“It was particularly egregious when you had Jabhat al Nusra actively fighting against the Kurdish population of Ras al Ayn,” she said, referring to a contested town across the border from Ceylanpinar, Turkey.
Rebels captured Ras al Ayn in November. A McClatchy reporter who was on the scene when the town fell and in subsequent days reported then that Turkish soldiers on the border allowed the movement of people, medical supplies and food across the border throughout the fighting and provided early warning when Syrian planes were headed toward the city.
At the time, O’Bagy said, American diplomats leaned on the Turks to curtail their blatant support for the jihadists, but the message doesn’t seem to have stuck, given that the fighters’ routes remain open and busy.
“There’s more they could do to handle it. If they really shut down the border crossings to Syria, some of these foreign fighters would be deterred from entering,” O’Bagy said. “The problem is that the real committed foreigners who want to join jihadists groups like Jabhat al Nusra will always find other ways.”
Enders reported from Beirut. McClatchy special correspondent Mohamed Fadel Fahmy contributed to this report from Cairo.