Middle East

Egyptian jihadist's path to Syria

Abubakr Moussa smiling in field
Image caption Abubakr Moussa's fight took him to Chechnya, Libya and finally, Syria

As the Syrian conflict grinds on, the mounting death toll has reduced many of the victims to faceless statistics, among them fighters from abroad drawn by a sense of religious duty. Here, BBC Arabic's Khaled Ezeelarab tells the story of one such jihadist, and the path which took him from Cairo to the front lines against Bashar al-Assad.

Abubakr Moussa's family is not quite what one would expect of a jihadist. The men are clean shaven, Abubakr's father smokes and his sister wears the kind of headscarf worn by most Egyptian women.

A graduate from an English school in one of Cairo's upper-middle-class suburbs, Abubakr did not become particularly religious until he entered university. It was then that he started growing his beard and spending a lot of time at the mosque.

When he graduated he refused to marry the young woman from a rich family chosen by his parents - instead he married a Russian widow from Chechnya whose brother he came to know at the mosque.

The woman already had two children and soon Abubakr was supporting all three, in addition to his new baby girl, Mariam.

'Fighting for oppressed'

As much as he enjoyed the company of his new family he was nevertheless quite restless, says his 83-year-old father, Ibrahim.

Image caption Abubakr marched to the Israeli border in a bid to "liberate Palestine"

"He felt he had an obligation to fight for oppressed Muslims anywhere," he says.

And so it was that Abubakr flew to Russia hoping to make his way to Chechnya and join Islamist rebels there.

He failed and was sent back by Russian authorities. Shortly afterwards he was arrested by Egyptian police and detained for six months, and by the time he was released his wife had left him.

Abubakr remarried, this time to an Egyptian woman from a conservative religious family, and the couple settled at his parents' house in the provincial town of Fayoum.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, given his history with the Egyptian authorities, he enthusiastically joined the uprising against Hosni Mubarak last year.

But as the Arab Spring spread to other countries, Abubakr yearned to join the fight of other Muslims against their rulers.

He took part in a convoy to provide Libyan revolutionaries with humanitarian assistance. It is not clear if he joined in the actual fighting, and his parents say they do not know.

He also took part in a march towards the Israeli border with Egypt, in what was known at the time as the Third Intifada - a failed attempt by some Arab activists to cross into Israel and start the "liberation of Palestine".

Syria calling

Then came Syria. Abubakr's family insists he was not part of an organised campaign to send Islamist fighters to a holy war against Bashar al-Assad.

Image caption Abubakr fought across Syria for the FSA

"He acted on his own, it was a personal initiative," says his father.

Perhaps it was, but one of the last postings Abubakr put on his Facebook page before travelling to Syria, was an advertisement for a "relief convoy" organised by an ultra-orthodox Islamic group with contacts in Egypt and Lebanon.

Whether this relief convoy was a front for a fighters' convoy is not clear, but in any case Abubakr made his way in March to Lebanon and from there to Syria where he joined the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA).

A comrade who met Abubakr in those first days of his Syrian venture told me that the Egyptian fighter quickly became known for his deep religious knowledge.

"He always led us in prayer," he said. "He soon became famous among all the neighbouring battalions [of the FSA] and they would ask him to join them."

Abubakr seems to have joined battles almost everywhere in Syria; he fought in Homs, al-Qasir, Damascus and Idlib.

It was from this last town that he wrote on Facebook on 31 August, telling his friends: "I am happy to inform you, brothers, that 17 thugs have been killed and 40 others injured in a unique operation carried out by your Mujahideen brothers."

It was his last posting. The following day he was killed, aged 35, in an attack by Syrian government forces.

His family is in grief but say they are not regretful.

"He has been seeking martyrdom for many years," says his father, "now God has made him achieve his goal."