Damascus, Syria (TFC) – It could be the plot from a Hollywood blockbuster. A terrorist attempts to flee the area he’s been operating in for years. He knows his side has lost. Intelligence agencies around the world are saying that his country will soon collapse and fall apart. He grabs his family and blends in with the thousands of refugees heading out of the area. His plan is working perfectly. He will soon be able to anonymously blend in with European society and live out his years in peace far away from the war and his past crimes. Then a twist of fate leads to him make international news. Some bigoted journalist kicks him and he winds up the face of the refugees. He is offered a job in Spain. Maybe those looking for him won’t notice his new location. We all know that in Hollywood, nobody can just fade away. The other side happens to be watching television in a local bar and spots their old foe in the background of a news clip. Then the international chase can begin. However, that’s Hollywood. Let’s look at the real life story.
In an amazing twist of the narrative, the refugee kicked by a journalist in the now-viral story was given a job as a soccer coach in Spain. Now, a new wrinkle emerges in the feel-good narrative. Osama Abdul Mohsen has been openly accused by Kurdish forces of not only fighting with al-Nusra forces but of also inciting violence against the Kurds in the 2004 al-Qamishly uprising. The uprising famously began at a soccer stadium and led to deaths of dozens.
The Kurdish YPD, a political wing of some Kurdish militant groups, has published photos of Osama Abdul Mohsen, including screen captures from Mohsen’s Facebook account. Those screen captures appear to show Mohsen talking about fighting with al-Nursa against the Kurds. This incident will be used by the anti-refugee crowd to demonstrate that all refugees are terrorists. The human rights crowd will claim that he was soldier fighting in a war and is no longer a combatant. The Kurds will use the incident to refocus attention on their plight. The facts will be lost forever.
The rumors and accusations coming out of Kurdish circles range from the almost certainly true to almost impossible.
Fact vs Fiction:
Was Mohsen involved in the 2004 incident? It appears so. Thousands participated in the violence during the uprising. His position with one of the teams at the soccer stadium that day and his ethnic heritage make it extremely likely that he participated in the violence just as suggested.
Did he incite the violence in 2004? One of the accusations coming out of the rumor mill is that he threw the first molotov cocktail that day. The Fifth Column was unable to obtain any proof of this accusation whatsoever. Most of this particular accusation seems to be coming from “a friend of a friend” or someone’s “cousin’s old boss at the taxi stand.” The idea that someone can easily recognize a man from ten years before is hard to believe. Without physical evidence, this is a claim we have to dismiss.
Was he fighting for al-Nusra? It appears so. The statements on the Facebook page combined with the practice of forced conscription in the area make this a genuine possibility. The YPD throwing their weight behind the accusation makes it even more believable. We would say that the probability of this is extremely high.
Was he involved war crimes? It is possible. Mohsen’s Facebook page states that he was involved in fighting near Amudeh, Serekaniye and Afrin. There were some heinous events that occurred at these locations. It is impossible to say whether or not he directly participated in the crimes. However, it should be noted that official Kurdish outlets have repeatedly noted the locations. It is unlikely that the Kurds would pursue him in this manner without hard physical evidence.
Is he a terrorist? That remains to be seen. The war in Syria has turned certain terrorist groups into legitimate armies and vice versa. Many of the armies have conscripted people and forced people to fight for them. This could have happened to Mohsen. Alternatively, he could be a brutal murderer. Al-Nusra has a very bad history that continues to this day.
What needs to happen next?
Many will call for the Spanish government to hand Mohsen over to the Kurds or to Syrian officials. Given the charges being leveled, it is important to be certain before handing him over. If he is guilty of war crimes, he should be handed over to most likely be executed. If he was just some conscripted Syrian who fled with his family at the first opportunity, his case is similar to many others.
While officials may not want to tip their hand in regards to what evidence they have, Kurdish officials with the YPD should make public any evidence they have concerning war crimes immediately. Being on the losing side of a war is not a crime. Fleeing a war zone is not a crime. Slaughtering families is. The Kurds must continue to hold themselves to the standards of justice that they typically have in the past. They must continue to show the world that they are the civilized people many of us know them to be. They must allow the rule of law to deal with this scenario.
The west cannot ignore this development, nor can we allow it be used to fuel the idea that all refugees are terrorists. The star power of the situation should not impact the pursuit of justice.
The Fifth Column reviewed public releases and spoke to knowledgeable Kurds to develop our analysis. This is a developing story.