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Hezbollah channels European mercenaries to Syria

Hezbollah members parade in Teffahta during a ceremony commemorating three slain Hezbollah leaders, Imad Mughniyeh, Abbas Musawi and Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

European mercenaries are being recruited with the help of Hezbollah to join Bashar Assad’s forces in the war in Syria, security sources said.

March 14 officials received security information about new Eastern European mercenaries arriving in batches at the Rafik Hariri International Airport on their way to Syria to fight alongside President Bashar Assad’s regime. According to the one Eastern European country’s intelligence unit, most of these fighters have professional military experience and have fought in Chechnya.

According to well-informed sources, last January saw the arrival of the first of these batches, which included approximately 23 fighters, who then traveled in vans belonging to Hezbollah to Chtaura and then on to Nabi Sheet in east Lebanon. The leader of the group also held a meeting with a Hezbollah military official, Habib M., known as Abu Hussein, who hails from the town of Ali al-Nahri in the Bekaa Valley. The fighters then headed to the Syrian town of Serghaya near Damascus.

The second batch arrived at Rafik Hariri International Airport individually so as not to draw attention to themselves. This group included approximately 11 fighters, three of whom hailed from Russia’s southern Dagestan province.

The sources confirmed that these Eastern European fighters wear Hezbollah military uniforms as well as yellow bands on their heads to show their loyalty. The sources also revealed that Eastern European company M Security Group, one of the most prominent organizations of its kind in the region, recruited the fighters specifically to send them to Syria to fight alongside the Syrian regime for a large monthly salary as well as insurance for their families.

According to the sources, an Eastern European officer known as Maximov is currently in a Damascus suburb in which Hezbollah is fighting the Syrian rebels, from where he handles and coordinates some of the cells working under his leadership and Hezbollah’s fighters.

Conversely, three months ago, several militant Islamist groups that count both Arabs and Europeans among their ranks joined the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) to participate in the Syrian civil war, according to information obtained by security sources.

The sources revealed that a number of the groups have recently entered Lebanon legally and are now waiting to connect with fundamentalist networks across the country. They have largely been flooding to the country’s Palestinian refugee camps, specifically the Taamir neighborhood of Ain al-Hilweh in the southern city of Sidon, where the network’s leaders are coordinating terrorist activities.

According to a European intelligence report, some 5,000 European citizens have joined hard-line groups in Syria and Iraq to conduct “jihad.” Sources close to Hezbollah confirmed that not only were these figures true, but also that European intelligence officers sent a delegation to Syria to meet with high-ranking security officials and follow up on the militants’ files. What emerged is that there is intense coordination occurring between these hard-line groups and terrorist cells operating in some European countries.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 21, 2014, on page 3.

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Summary

European mercenaries are being recruited with the help of Hezbollah to join Bashar Assad's forces in the war in Syria, security sources said.

According to well-informed sources, last January saw the arrival of the first of these batches, which included approximately 23 fighters, who then traveled in vans belonging to Hezbollah to Chtaura and then on to Nabi Sheet in east Lebanon.

According to the sources, an Eastern European officer known as Maximov is currently in a Damascus suburb in which Hezbollah is fighting the Syrian rebels, from where he handles and coordinates some of the cells working under his leadership and Hezbollah's fighters.


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