The interview was held in the office of a jail officer. Before leaving the correspondent alone with the prisoner, the officer gave him an alarm button.
Training Camp Instead of School
It was hard to start the conversation as the 37-year-old Azzam was demonstrating his contempt to the interview.
“I had a Bachelor’s degree in the Mecca university and taught mathematics in the homeland. At the very beginning of the Syrian unrest people came to streets and then that turned to slaughter. Then religious leaders and authoritative people started to call at sermons and on TV on people to go to Syria; videos started to emerge in the Internet and I decided to go there [to take part] in jihad,” he said.
Azzam said that he left a wife, four daughters and a son in Saudi Arabia.
He arrived in the Turkish city of Antakya with his Syrian friend and from there they were transported to a training camp for newcomers in the Idlib province by people linked to the al-Nusra Front, outlawed in Russia.
After a month of training Azzam and six other people from the Gulf states were sent to the northeastern Syrian province of Deir ez-Zor.
First Battles for Nusra Front
Azzam said that during first two weeks after arrival he did not take part in any fighting being responsible for recruiting local residents to fight against the Syrian army.
“[After that] we were redeployed to the city [of Deir ez-Zor]. I fought with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. We witnessed terrible fighting, in which we participated for about a month. I was a communication agent between the units,” he said.
In late 2012 a part of the city was controlled by terrorists. After several month of siege and heavy fighting the government troops managed to liberate the city. Today the situation is opposite with tens of thousands of civilians and Syrian troops being fully surrounded by Daesh (outlawed in Russia) terror group.
After that emir Abu Maria offered Azzam to leave for the Damascus suburb of Jobar where the terrorist planned a new offensive against the Syrian capital. Maria was responsible for redeployment of Azzam and seven more terrorists to Jobar. It took them four days to reach the destination point.
The terrorists were taught to use mortars by Abu Bakre from Jordan. The course lasted for about a month.
“We learned how to use a mortar, during our first operation we had to cover for an offensive operation. Nobody knew detail of the operation. Only when fighting came to an end we found out that the operation failed,” Azzam said.
Directing Fire at Residential Areas Using Google
Terrorists planned to send seven cars loaded with explosives to the city. After explosions storm troops had to start fighting. Mortar gunners got coordinates of key targets in the center of Damascus. The Syrian army managed to prevent the attack and killed many terrorists.
“Abu Baker met with field commanders and defined targets using Google Maps – that was, primarily, target in residential areas of Damascus — such as the Abbasiyyin Stadium and the Tishreen War Panaroma Museum building. We had only four mortars. During our work one mortar exploded injuring five militants – two Syrians, two Jordanians and an Egyptian. The emir (Baker) demanded that we had to continue the shelling, later another mortar blasted, after that the third one, so we stopped fighting and started to wait for the outcome of the combat,” Azzam said.
‘Career Progress’, New Marriage, Injury
Several weeks later Azzam was offered to become deputy commander of the unit. He trained new groups of mortar gunners – seven Saudi citizens, about 20 Jordanians and militants from Turkey and Kosovo.
After that Azzam’s unit was redeployed to the village of Al-Otaiba near the Damascus airport.
“At that time I married. I just told one of my comrade-in-arms in the al-Nusra Front that I wanted to marry. He acquainted me with his niece and we married. There was a period of standstill then. After that the army launched an offensive again and my wife and I left for Huteita. On the day when I decided that I would go away from here, I sent my wife to her parents in Marj al-Sultan and returned with her brother back to take belongings. On the way back a missile hit us,” he said.
Azzam lost both his legs. It took him seven months to rehabilitate. All that time he spent in a bed living with his wife on $4,000 that he had brought from Saudi Arabia. The jihadist group paid him about $40 and gave food parcels.
After the rehabilitation he fought again. One day the terrorists captured a 50-year-old man, who allegedly provided the government troops with information about terrorists’ positions. Azzam was told by his commander to kill the man.
“I asked the judge whether that man was really guilty, after that I executed him having shot four times. One shot was enough but the commanders ordered me to shoot more…,” he said.
The conversation with Azzam was rather long. At the end of it he said he was disappointed with the situation in Syria.
“I started to get disappointed when I was at the rehabilitation. People started to demand returning of the regime’s [government] troops in the settlement because of starvation and poor life conditions. I started to think how to return to the homeland as soon as possible,” he said.
Azzam added that he was also disappointed with the fact that the al-Nusra Front, Daesh and the Free Syrian Army started to fight against each other.
“The war in Syria is far from being a war for the people’s freedom, it is a war for power and financial interests, carried out by various terrorist groups, sheltering behind the mottos of the Muslim religion… We found out the truth here and it sharply differs from something told beyond Syria,” he said.