German jihadist in Aleppo: "The situation looks kind of bad for the rebels"

Samet D., originating from Hanau in Germany, travelled to Syria to join the jihad. Soon after, he appeared in a propaganda video of an al-Qaida group. Afterwards all traces of him got lost until he came back on the scene as a war reporter. Research of “Erasmus Monitor” reveals that the 23-years-old has been trapped in Eastern Aleppo.

The Holy Land of honor

During the beginning of September 2016, the cards turned for Samet D. The army of president Bashar al-Assad had been able to block the last remaining supply route of the rebels which led to the occupied parts of Eastern Aleppo. Just a few weeks earlier mainly groups which are close to al-Qaida (like “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham”, “Ahrar al-Sham” and “Islamic Turkistan Party) had fought for the corridor located in the south of the city while losing a lot of men. Fighters, equipment and food had been conveyed into the occupied zone until the Syrian army started their counter offensive. Meanwhile Samet got trapped. But how did the 23-years-old German Turk even get into this life-threatening situation?

Hanau is a small city located near Frankfurt am Main. Samet went to school in his hometown and completed an apprenticeship as media designer afterwards. With his fellow students, he used to create videos for party’s and music events. Furthermore, he played soccer and was considered very talented. It was a relatively short but also intensive time when he started to mix with the Salafist scene. He attended a backyard mosque located in the industrial area of Hanau. A young man named Aziz M. who owns a takeaway preached there. Whether he played a role regarding the radicalization of Samet remains unclear. Samet D. told the blog that he “never really had any connections to Aziz M.” He had been to Aziz M's takeaway “a couple of times” at best.

However, a few young men from that milieu (among them D.) left via Turkey for Syria in between 2013 and 2014. It was not the “Islamic State” (IS) though which lured Samet to the “Holy Country of Honor”. The Syrian branch of the al-Qaida network “Jabhat al-Nusra” had similar ideological and strategical aims. The difference between the two branches solely lay in the fact that they had already been against each other at that point.

“You do not have to be an anabolic junkie”

In Syria Samet D. took combat training and got a Kalashnikov. He participated in fights in northern Syrian provinces like Idlib, Latakia and Aleppo. Furthermore, it is known that he got married. But as talented media designer who spoke multiple languages, he felt to be destined for greater things than to solely fight (like many other Germans believed of themselves as well). It has been said that he had recruited a few young people from Germany for the jihad.
Samet D.

In 2014 a video surfaced which hardened the suspicions. Samet D. appears in it wearing a balaclava, a holster on his shoulders and having a Kalashnikov rest on his lab. His leading question was directed towards his “Dear siblings”. He asked, “What are you doing in a country where it firstly is haram to live in? And secondly, we are not welcomed in the countries of the Kuffar like a second class of humans. For years, we got treated that way.”

He told the German Muslims to participate in the jihad according to the book of the messenger. “No matter if you are strong, a Rambo or a small boy. You do not have to be an anabolic junkie who is sturdy. Small boys are here as well.” Following Samet's assertion they were the strongest at the frontline anyway – “without fear except for Allah”. Ultimately the destination of all “Mujahideen” is supposed to be paradise. “He runs into the enemy without looking to his right, to his left or backwards.”

Soon after the video was published D. had been identified by german security agencies. Towards the blog he contradicted having been the person in the clip. “This masked guy is a Saifullah from Frankfurt who is part of ISIS” he said. Furthermore, he stated that he had not joined any armed group but rather had been working for a “Turkish aid organization”. “The reason of my journey to Syria was that I am a human whose heart is still alive. My heart did not allow myself to live a nice life in Germany while others get slaughtered.” Public authorities believe this to be a lie to cover himself.

But that didn't bother him at all. Further on he probably still worked as a jihadist propagandist of the al-Nusra-front. On that Samet D. stated “Later I started to cover the news and up to now I have been trying to help the Syrian people with my experience with the media to let the world know what is happening here.”

A few months ago, a very odd change took place regarding Samet: From the masked jihadist into an apparently serious freelance journalist. On social media, he started to call himself “war reporter”, “cameraman” and “publisher”. But he didn't just work by himself. 

The Conversion
Team of "OGN": Bilal Abdul Kareem/Samet D.

As a team member of the Salafist channel “On the Ground News” (OGN) the 23-year-old once left Idlib to get to the former economic metropolis Aleppo. The group, consisting of three men, has been reporting on the situation in Syria for months and been creating impressive documentaries. Interviews with al-Qaida icons like Abu Firas al-Suri and Muhammad al-Muhaysini as well as rebel commanders and frontline visits, let their work appear to be authentic. 

Especially the eloquence of the charismatic “chief reporter” of OGN, the American Bilal Abdul Kareem, fascinates their clueless audience. The convert grew up in New York and completed a drama training during the 90s. Afterwards he got PR experience in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Libya. His experience is notable when he talks about the events taking place on the rebels' area in a sober but pretentious way. Samet D. also performed in front of the camera talking English, Turkish and Arabic. 

A lot of western media fell for the seemingly independent media team. American and British television networks like CNN, Channel 4 and Sky News contacted them. They did not only get supplies like pictures and videos from OGN. Clarissa Ward, reporter of CNN, spent one week with OGN in March 2016 as an undercover mission on the territory of the rebels. Afterwards she chronicled her experience as series.

“Yes, unfortunately this is true”
Samet D. claimed a drone strike
Although many western media outlets sympathize with OGN, western governments possibly are probably targeting them. Samet D. und Abdul Kareem survived a couple of drone attacks so far. In an interview with "The Intercept", American Kareem indirectly accused his own government to be responsible for the attacks. During June 2017, the two men were travelling near Khan Touman, which is located in the southern countryside of Aleppo, when a missile hit a car in front of them. Kareem stated in a video that, unlike if it had been a Russian or Syrian airstrike, there hadn't been any warning signs for the attack. “It was like a hellfire-missile. I did not hear it coming.” Samet D. also gave account of the incident and a picture of him with the wrecked car was taken by Kareem.

As for now the two men are confronted with different problems. They need to worry for their lives in the east of Aleppo, trapped by the Syrian army. Upon request of the blog Samet D. confirmed his current situation, “Yes, unfortunately this is true. [...]. The situation looks kind of bad for the rebels.” Nonetheless he doesn't want to surrender to the Syrian army. “To us journalists, who want to uncover the crimes of the regime and report them to the world, there is no option of handing yourself in since nobody trusts the regime [...].” In addition, as Samet D. said, the situation wasn't as bad as that one should hand himself over to the Syrians. Samet D. did not want to give any further comment.