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Syria: 'Half the fighters I treated were jihadists,' says French doctor

French doctor Jacques Bérès has travelled to Syria on three different occasions to help treat wounded fighters. He told FRANCE 24 that he was struck on his latest visit by the influx of foreign jihadists into the wartorn country.


Half of all the rebel fighters being treated for injuries in the northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo are foreign Jihadists, said French physician Jacques Bérès, who has just returned home after spending two weeks near the frontlines of the Syrian civil war.

In a September 10 interview, Bérès, who is the co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, gave FRANCE 24 a personal account of his experiences in the wartorn city. In recent weeks Aleppo has seen some of the most intense fighting between the Syrian army and rebels fighting to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“More than fifty percent of the warriors I had to take care of were jihadists, not just foreigners, but with the look of jihadists, with the beard and Koranic verses on the forehead,” said Bérès, who worked at one of the two main hospitals in Aleppo.

“Their fellow soldiers, when they came to visit them at the hospital, said quite frankly ‘we are Jihadists’,” the doctor and activist added.

Nevertheless, Bérès said his view could have been distorted because of his close proximity to the fighting. He said jihadists were often the first to be sent to the frontlines in Syria, and were wounded and killed in high numbers compared to other rebel fighters.

Bérès’ most recent mission in Aleppo was the doctor’s third visit to the country since the conflict began in March 2011. He said he had not observed the same high number of non-Syrian jihadists in previous visits to the western city of Homs and the northwestern city of Idlib.

‘The example to follow is Mohamed Merah’

The French doctor said he was struck in particular by two of the jihadist fighters he treated in Aleppo who were French nationals. “They were very young, seemingly so quiet, really nice-looking guys,” he said. “They were convinced they had a duty to fight Bashar al-Assad in order to establish [Islamic] Sharia law.”

He was also shocked when one of the two young men said that the “example to follow in France was Mohamed Merah.” Merah, a 23-year-old self-styled al Qaeda jihadist, was  shot dead by French police in March 2012 after he killed seven people, including Jewish schoolchildren, in France’s southwest city of Toulouse.

Bérès said France and other Western powers bore responsibility for the intensification of the war in Syria and the presence of Islamist fighters in the raging civil war.

“This is completely the fault of Western governments, which did nearly nothing to try to help. The Syrian revolution began peacefully more than 18 months ago. It’s terrible we did nothing, we just left them alone,” he said.

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