From business studies to jihad or how Amer Ghajar changed

amer_ghajarA year ago, Amer was studying at a prestigious university in Aleppo. Now he is dead, killed fighting for al-Qaeda against Syria’s ‘infidel Shia regime’. More and more young people, from all backgrounds, are joining the cause of jihad in Syria.Aleppo  – The wave of conversions to radical Islam spawned by the war against Syria’s Assad regime continues. Amer Ghajar, who died just over a week ago fighting in Aleppo, is just the latest of many a fundamentalist youth recruited to the Islamist cause after a life far from extremism.

Eleven months ago, Amer Ghajar’s Facebook gallery showed a young man dressed in western clothing: leather jacket, fashionable cut, trimmed beard and sunglasses; pictures taken in a bar, in front of high-fashion shops and the library of his university, one of the best in the country, where Amer studied business administration until he dropped out to join al Qaeda against the regime.

Amer’s last pictures were taken just a few weeks before his death on 21 July during fighting with government troops in the suburbs of Aleppo.

His profile picture, updated on 18 April, shows a young man in a paramilitary outfit with a shoulder-strapped gun, unkempt beard and hair, a black head wrap (pictured).

In his last posts, he made reference to the application of sharia law in the city of Aleppo and mentioned the noms de guerre of some of his companions.

Like hundreds of young men who left behind a normal life in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, the Gulf countries, Europe and Central Asia to join the Islamist cause in Syria, Amer Ghajar took up arms against the regime’s “infidel Shias and Alawis’.

In the context of a civil war, it is not surprising many young Syrians would abandon their studies or work to join the rebel cause. But why would so many of these join al-Qaeda? That is another, more complicated matter.

In Amer’s case, it is unclear whether he was indoctrinated at university or after he joined rebel ranks, where Islamic religious propaganda is an increasingly common practice.

As the Syria conflict persists, the Islamist issue among rebel factions can only get more prominent.

At the same time, as young foreign militants, many from Europe, continue to arrive, Western governments will have to consider the wisdom of providing the rebels with military aid.

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