Reuters - Former Libyan rebels and snipers who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi are beefing up the Free Syrian Army to try to bring down Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Libyan-Irish fighter Hussam Najjar, who goes by the name “Sam,” told Reuters he is a trained sniper who was part of the rebel unit that stormed Gaddafi's compound in Tripoli a year ago, led by Mahdi al-Harati, a powerful militia chief from Libya's western mountains.
Harati now leads a unit in Syria, made up mainly of Syrians but also including some foreign fighters, including 20 senior members of his own Libyan rebel unit. He asked Najjar to join him from Dublin a few months ago, Najjar said.
The Libyans aiding the Syrian rebels include specialists in communications, logistics, humanitarian issues and heavy weapons, he said. They operate training bases, teaching fitness and battlefield tactics.
Najjar said he was surprised to find how poorly armed and disorganized the Syrian rebels were, describing Syria's Sunni Muslim majority as far more repressed and downtrodden under Assad than Libyans were under Gaddafi.
"I was shocked. There is nothing you are told that can prepare you for what you see. The state of the Sunni Muslims there - their state of mind, their fate - all of those things have been slowly corroded over time by the regime.
"I nearly cried for them when I saw the weapons. The guns are absolutely useless. We are being sold leftovers from the Iraqi war, leftovers from this and that. Luckily, these are things that we can do for them: we know how to fix weapons, how to maintain them, find problems and fix them."
In the months since he arrived, the rebel arsenal had become "five times more powerful", he said. Fighters had obtained large caliber anti-aircraft guns and sniper rifles.
Although many rebel units fight under the banner of the Free Syrian Army, their commands are localized and poorly coordinated, Najjar said.
"One of the biggest factors delaying the revolution is the lack of unity among the rebels," he said. "Unfortunately, it is only when their back is up against the wall that they start to realize they should (unite).
"This is not just about the fall of Assad. This is about the Sunni Muslims of Syria taking back their country and pushing out the minority that have been oppressing them for generations now.”
Najjar said thousands more Sunni fighters from the Arab world were gathering in neighboring countries prepared to join the cause.
Najjar said militancy would spread across the region as long as the West does not do more to hasten the downfall of Assad.
"The Western governments are bringing this upon themselves. The longer they leave this door open for this torture and this massacre to carry on, the more young men will drop what they have in this life and search for the afterlife" with Islamic extremists, Najjar said.