Meet Chechclearr, the Web-savvy foreign Islamic militant in Syria
By Nabih Bulos and Patrick J. McDonnell | Los Angeles Times | Published: February 4, 2014
BEIRUT — He loves sushi, AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades.
He could be killed at any moment but vows to marry "a beautiful, righteous Muslim girl" as soon as he finds one.
He proclaims a "love for justice" but defends beheadings, battlefield executions and sectarian killing. He scorns democracy and extols a fundamentalist interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law.
Welcome to the virtual world of Chechclearr, the Internet handle of a self-described Islamic militant who says he is fighting as an Islamist rebel in Syria but also has time to post a copious amount of pictures and comments on the Internet. Although his identity cannot be independently verified, the many images he has posted appear authentic.
Militants in Syria have long made extensive use of social media, releasing statements on Twitter and on Facebook pages associated with various groups. Chechclearr is one of a number of Islamist fighters taking the time to document their experiences and impressions in English.
Observers say the influx of Web-savvy volunteers from the West may have resulted in more non-Arabic content and an emphasis on personal experience.
"If these fighters are twentysomethings who have grown up using the Internet, and they have access where they are now, why wouldn't they do so?" said Aron Lund, editor of the Carnegie Endowment's Syria in Crisis site. "That said, yes, I think some of the accounts may be fake or post some fake information — like all across the Internet."
The prolific Chechclearr seems to relish his role as a self-appointed apologist and propagandist for Al Qaeda-linked factions that are now among the most dominant rebel militias in Syria, drawing thousands of non-Syrians into their ranks from as far away as Europe and the United States.
"Media is half of jihad," Chechclearr explains in response to one of many questions on the Ask.fm social media network, where curious followers from around the globe have posted a deluge of queries. The running commentary has become a kind of "Ask a Militant" forum.
Chechclearr is deliberately vague about his background, calling himself a "twentysomething" fighter who went to Syria more than a year ago because of religious faith, his "love" of justice and battlefields, his concern for the Syrian people and his apparent disaffection with the ways of the West. He writes in three languages — English, Dutch and Turkish — but in Arabic can spout only basic religious phrases. He is not Chechen, despite the moniker, he says. There are vague hints of previous military training.
From photos posted online, he appears to be a tall, thin man with brown hair and a beard. He seems to be a convert to Islam who lived much of his life in Holland, though he says he was not born there and has no intention of returning.
"Too cold and the people hate Islam and Muslims in general," Chechclearr explains.
Syria and jihad have brought him inner contentment, he writes. He says he has often "struggled" with his faith.
"This is the best life I have ever lived," he says when asked what he would do if he had to leave Syria. "I guess [I'd] be depressed somewhere in a ditch."
One appalled writer labels him a "monster" and assails Chechclearr and his "like-minded, disgustingly violent brothers" as a blight on humanity.
"Wait till you meet Bashar al-Assad," responds Chechclearr, referring to the Syrian president, whom antigovernment rebels have been fighting to topple since early 2011.
In his wide-ranging posts, Chechclearr generally maintains a cordial, composed tone, even when talking about killing. When one irate reader employs a profanity to assail Chechclearr and his ilk, the fighter scolds him: "Please mind your language."
He seems unfazed by battlefield executions and beheadings, the grisly trademark of many Syrian Islamic militant groups, who relish posting gruesome online videos of slaughtered enemies' severed heads. One commenter labels beheading "barbaric" and a "PR disaster" for the rebels.
"Wait till you see Bashars torture chambers," is the riposte from Chechclearr. "You would wish that there was someone that would just behead you instead."
On the lighter side, he comments liberally on food, women and jihad couture, explaining that he mostly spurns the black balaclava favored by many foreign fighters.
"Masks are getting a bit boring these days don't you think?" he responds to a questioner asking whether he is worried about his face being plastered all over the Web.
Sushi is his favorite food, but he also gushes about Turkish cuisine and homemade Syrian fare. He would get married "the same day" if he found a pious Muslim "girl," but traditional Syrian families are wary of "outsiders" like him.
Despite his often jocular tone, Chechclearr is aware that foreign intelligence agencies are probably watching. When one questioner says he wants to go off to jihad in Syria and asks for counsel, Chechclearr says he does not answer such questions online. "Be very careful with these thoughts on the Internet," he admonishes.
A persistent interrogator probing into Chechclearr's origins is chided: "You want my bankcard number aswell? Hahaha. I can't give my real name, age and other information — because of my family and my background."
In November, it appears, Chechclearr's Instagram account was blocked and the images were no longer accessible. At the time, he had more than 2,000 followers.
"They are cowards, always looking for ways to stop the truth from coming out," Chechclearr says of the Internet censors. Previously, he complained, his Twitter account had been blocked.
Despite his penchant for documentation, Chechclearr says his jihad duties always take precedence. If forced to give up either his Austrian Steyr AUG assault rifle or his Galaxy Note 3 smartphone, he says:
"Smartphone, without a doubt."
Bulos is a special correspondent.