Note — Before reading: This report was initially intended to be published in 2018, due to the time between publishing and the current release some information may be outdated or no longer relevant.
With the Islamic State having little effective control over any territory in Syria or Iraq, questions about what to do with members of the group who hold citizenship in Europe, North America, and various other countries have become unavoidable. Do we rehabilitate them or do we prosecute them at home? What about their children?
These are the questions that countries like Canada, for example, have largely avoided answering. For now, it is apparent that new policy and laws are required to effectively deal with the return of members of the group. France has announced it will take steps to repatriate and prosecute members of the group.
But as members of the Islamic State return home, a larger question comes up: what about foreign fighters in other groups?
Foreign volunteers for rebel groups still remain in Syria, with the majority of them residing in rebel-held Idlib and Latakia. Of those who have traveled, those who chose to fight have joined groups like Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra) and may face prosecution like those suspected of being members of Al Qaeda in the past.
Regardless of how the international community deals with members of the Islamic State, detention or rehabilitation of Islamists, especially those with connections to Al Qaeda and international Jihadist Ideologies, already has a documented history and system.
However, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fits into neither the traditional profile of an international Jihadist or an Islamic State member. Although largely made up of local Kurdish fighters with various subfactions of Arabs and Assyrians, the SDF is a military coalition, which is dominated by Kurdish forces from the YPG, short for People’s Protection Units in Kurdish, and its all-female counterpart YPJ.
The YPG has been fighting against the Islamic State since 2013, began an aggressive campaign through northern Syria, taking territory in areas with large populations of Kurds. The YPG has been described as the main ally of the US and its partners in the international coalition, much to the ire of Turkey who views them as allies and extensions of the PKK, an intentionally recog
While not an active recruiter of foreign volunteers, the SDF has allowed foreign volunteers to join its ranks and, despite being a comparatively small group, represent a large point of the interest for media outside of Syria, with western media mythologizing their travels and combat experience.
During the Syrian Civil War the YPG has fought against the Islamic State and has been involved in larger conflicts with Turkish-Backed Free Syrian Army groups, mainly in Northern Aleppo and Afrin.
The YPG also engaged in clashes against the Syrian government during the beginning of the Syrian civil war, although both have generally remained at an uneasy peace, with minor conflicts breaking out between the YPG and Syrian Government forces in 2016 in the north east.
Although the international coalition has invested resources, manpower, and weapons in the YPG with the stated goal of fighting the Islamic State, the YPG has also found itself at odds with US policy as ideological and regional goals include carving out a Kurdish state controlled by its associated political factions under the concept of Democratic Confederalism, an idea created by Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK.
Several foreign fighters of the YPG, source: Facebook.com
As it is considered to be the major moderate and secular organizations in the west, the group has attracted foreigners from various different backgrounds. Ex-military, gang members, thrill seekers, and those looking to fight the Islamic State despite not subscribing the the ideology of the YPG.
Due to its historical connection to the PKK and relationship with socialist and marxist-leninism, the SDF and YPG has seen a significant influx of Antifa, marxist-leninist, and other various far-left groups joining for ideological reasons.
Before we can understand if and how these volunteers would be prosecuted when return home, it’s important to build an understanding of complex connections built between such diverse group of people and what brought them to Syria.
As the strongest and most active coalition partner fighting the Islamic State in Syria, it’s no surprise volunteers from the U.S. also represent the largest group of foreign volunteers from a single country in SDF.
The U.S. intervention in Syria started in September 2014, with the aim of supporting certain Syrian opposition fighters and the YPG. In turn this brought a lot of media attention to the YPG, and has acted as a major factor to attract foreign volunteers for the YPG. American ex-military also represent a large percentage of American volunteers. With a wide range of military experience, certain members within the group stand out as people of note.
Born in the United States and a former member of the American military, Hogan is interesting because he has a history of military experience, even joining the French Foreign Legion, a military service branch of the French Army that accepts foreign volunteers.
Michael Hogan in a green beret with the emblem of the French Foreign Legion.
Hogan with several soldiers of the FFL with different ethnic backgrounds, Source: Facebook.com
Hogan has continued to participate in military operations, later uploading photos 14th of october 2018, during the time YPG took control of large parts of Raqqa City, the then largest city held by the Islamic State.In social media posts, Hogan shared photos of him posing with a girl who he claims had been abducted by Islamic State for at least four years.
Picture uploaded by Hogan on the 14th in Raqqa, Source: Facebook.com
While it’s unknown whether Hogan holds any special rank or position within the YPG or foreign fighters due to his military experience, Hogan was an active part of a brigade with several otherforeign fighters.
During his time in Raqqa, he was pictured with British volunteer Jac Holmes (KIA, on the far right of the picture below) and Michael Enright (Next to Jac Holmes) a British actor and YPG volunteer from Manchester, UK.The two others have been identified as foreign fighters as well, with the tall man in grey has been identified as being from France.
This picture was taken in the center of Raqqa after its capture by the YPG forces against IS. Hogan likely left Syria very recently, as photos shared in his social media show him working for a construction company in the U.S.
Investigating more into the YPG, foreign volunteers, and the French Foreign Legion another former member of the FFL named Kevin Howard (Nom de Guerre Kane Harlly) started to appear in related posts and volunteer friend networks.
Howard, also an American citizen, which has fought in Raqqa and other areas against IS with the YPG. Howard is pictured wearing the same type of uniform as Hogan during his time at the French Foreign Legion.
The same military uniform, identical patches, and a French armed forces FAMAS rifle, indicating that Howard likely was in the FFL. It’s unlikely there is a direct link between the FFL and the YPG, as only three fighters who were part of the FFL in the YPG have shared images and information to suggest they were members.
Howard on the right within the FFL, Source: Facebook.com
Howard has been reported to have served in the Marine Corps before joining the FFL and the YPG, and has been pictured posing with a flag of the U.S. Marine Corps in Syria. Michael Hogan has been pictured posing with a Marine Corp hat in 2012, but it’s unconfirmed if he had served in the Marine Corps or another branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
In the photo Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the PKK and creator of the current ideological foundation of the YPG, can be seen on his right arm. On his left, the patch of the YPG is visible. Behind him there seems a destroyed building. The exact location of this picture could not be retrieved. Howard was part of the YPG until his unit was disbanded, Joining the Syriac Military council (MFS) A Syriac/Assyrian militia fighting under the SDF umbrella.
According to an article published by Buzzfeed, Howard was deployed in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Howard is infamously known for his unique experience leaving the SDF, which was initially shared on the Syrian Civil War subreddit after it was posted on Facebook. Howard uploaded “Friends and Family, I have not wanted to be too public lately but I have been pushed into a corner by my former bosses of the YPG and the MFS. I am being held against my will in Tal Tamir Syria by members of the MFS. If you do not hear from me in a day something terrible has happened to me. Please help if you can.”
Howard claimed he had been taken “hostage” by his former brigade after wanting to leave Syria and go home after a year of fighting against Islamic State. In a screenshot released by a relative of Howard, he explains via a message why he had been arrested by the MFS in Tel Tamr.
Howard claimed he had been told to either to fight against the Russians and the Syrian government in the Syrian province of Deir Ez Zour, or be imprisoned. Howard also claimed he did “terrible things” in the name of the YPG as seen in a screenshot posted on twitter. According to an article by MilitaryTimes, U.S. soldiers spoke with Howard and another American citizen “Taylor Hudson”, however, they decided to turn away the foreign volunteers despite Howard claiming their lives were in potential danger. Howard has eventually been freed by the MFS, and seems to be still fighting in Syria. He committed suicide in 2019.
The last volunteer of interest we will cover is Justin Schnepp, who is a former U.S. Army soldier and was deployed in Iraq (Ramadi) during 2007, which is confirmed by pictures shared on his profile.
Schnepp in Iraq, 02/08/2007, he can be seen on the far right. Source: https://www.facebook.com/justin.schnepp?ref=br_rs
Schnepp has been pictured with several other foreign fighters, including Kevin Howard, and Paul Hetfield, another American foreign volunteer who also wears the insignia that Hetfield wears a patch of the MFS as well. The banner in the middle is the logo of the Tactical Medical Unit (TMU) a unit that many foreign fighters have joined or participated in.
Schnepp is back in the United States again after fight alongside the YPG.
Some other U.S. nationals of note in Syria are Corey Wetherholt, whom is an ex-USMC. Wetherholt also has a profile on Picdeer, on which he post combat pictures and videos from Syria. Corey seems to be actively involved in combat, and providing training to YPG and SDF.
Saladin Azadi (Likely Nom-De-Guerre), another Ex-US soldier. Patrick Ryan Kasprik is an American who has been pictured with the YPG and YBS, alongside more foreigners. He also has a relationship with “River Rainbow O’Mahoney Hagg”, which is another American citizen which fought alongside the TMU in Syria against IS. reportedly Kasprik was arrested by Iraqi police forces and spent three weeks in jail, he was also arrested in the US, for assaulting an officer and spent 75 days in jail.
Brian Wilson was an ex-US soldier and worked as a sheriff in the United States for 16 years. Wilson was also interviewed by Vice news. Wilson, like many other foreigners, joined the YPG to fight the Islamic State under a Democratic force. Fighters like Marcus Harnichar are of some interest for wearing Antifa patches, something seen among the more leftist volunteers.
Josh Wilmeth is another fighter of note, having fought in Syria and now has started to get involved in combat in Ukraine. While it’s unknown what his combat experience, if any, was before joining the YPG it seems he is involved in some sort of training in Ukraine. Photos shared on his facebook show him instructing a soldier with a Georgian shoulder patch, likely part of the Georgian Legion, and with a sign in the background that lists the website for a Ukrainian company that sells boxing equipment.
Dan Baker was an Homeless beggar who turned his life around and became a Jiu Jitsu champion. He later and joined the Army, as a member of the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. later he joined the YPG as a foreign volunteer Baker took part in the last offensive against IS militants in Syria.
Danny Bagok (Likely real name: Danny Carolan) was an allegedly ex-US marine, according to a tattoo on his arm.
Dean Parker is an allegedly member of the Asayisa, and has been active with them since 2015.
Foreign fighters with the YBS, a Yazidi group. Source, https://www.facebook.com/Kasprik
Although limited in number in comparison to its neighbor, Canada has a few foreign fighters inside Syria fighting for the YPG. Among them are Sores Sincar (nom-de-Guerre) from Quebec, Devv Null, and Jordan Desy. Most famous of Canadians is the volunteer Shaelynn Jabs, one of the few female members of the medical unit of the YPG.
Jabs has allegedly taken part in three major offensives against IS, including operations capture of Raqqa city. Articles regarding her experience in Syria have been published by the CBC, and she’s been featured on VICE where she spoke of her experience as a fighter and as a medic
Jabs went to Syria in 2015, after she received minor injuries during combat there, she went back to Canada before heading to Syria again. Despite this and extensive media coverage of her time volunteering with the YPG, she returned to continue fighting in Syria after spending some time in Canada recovering.
Australian foreign fighters
Several Australian foreign fighters have joined the YPG in Syria, one of those was 23 year old Reece Harding, who died fighting against the Islamic State after 7 weeks on duty.
While in Syria Reece met Joe Akerman, a British volunteer, and was arrested along with Jac Holmes and Joshua Molloy, a former member of the Irish army, by the KRG but then later released. Reece was part of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Unit, which worked to defuse IED’s (Improvised Explosive Device) in areas recently captured by the YPG.
Harding stepped on a mine in a newly captured village on the 27th of June, 2017.
Another foreign fighter from Australia is Jamie Williams. Williams was also a former member of the French Foreign Legion, and he actively participated in combat operations with the YPG and took part in the offensive to capture Raqqa city.
Williams with the FFL, Source: https://www.facebook.com/jamie.j.williams.52
Jamie Williams in Syria, source: https://www.facebook.com/jamie.j.williams.52
Williams Joined the YPG because, according to him, YPG was fighting on behalf of the world against IS, and wanted to help where he could. Williams has also said that one of the reason why he joined was to fight against Australians which had joined the Islamic State.
Williams was arrested and questioned by the Australian police, but he was later released. Williams said that he was nearly killed after an ambush by Islamic State militants. However, he claims a U.S. drone spotted them in time and called in airstrikes.
Williams was interviewed by the Australian broadcasting corporation, making him one of the most visible faces of Australian volunteers in the YPG.
Foreigners from the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom, which along with the U.S. has troops stationed in Syria and is part of the US-Led Syria coalition, has a significantly large number of volunteers including many people who formerly served for the Armed forces.
One of the most notable fighters originating from the UK is the aforementioned Jac Holmes, who fought against IS with the YPG since January 2015 and was killed on the 23rd of October, 2017 in Raqqa only four days before the YPG announced to have captured the city from IS militants. The cause of death was reported to be an IED. Holmes had no prior military experience but was part of a 4-man sniper squad consisting of foreigners.
Holmes seems to have had access to equipment provided by American forces in Syria. Despite no prior military experience, his Instagram includes photos of him with an M16 with Department of Defense UID, a system used by the United States DOD to trace weapons with unique codes.
Kevin Benton, another notable UK volunteer, uploaded a picture of himself in 2013 that shows Benton with the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Another picture uploaded from Syria shows Benton with Mark Ramsay, a Finnish volunteer named Ariel, Andok Cotkar, Fin Bagok Kullervo, possibly Swedish Firat Batman also known as Ghanima 031, Mitchel Clark (American) and Italian Karim Franceschi. Benton has been deployed to Afghanistan and Sierra Leone according to an article and pictures uploaded on his Facebook.
Weapons of the 223 Sniper Team, source: https://www.instagram.com/p/BbEPT10nwNO/
The picture above shows Jac Holmes with his 223 sniper team on a rooftop. On the far right we can see John Duttenhofer, a foreign fighter from the United States who claimed to have learned to fight by playing Call of Duty when he was interviewed by Dailystar who published an article about his experience and meeting with John.
The blonde man is named Robin and is an German citizen, A small video regarding him was uploaded by ZDF. The man next to Duttenhofer is a Spanish fighter, named Arges Artiaga. Artagia is from Galicia and was interviewed by Spanish website Faro De Vigo. Arges has fought for the YPG on 3 different periods, with the first period being February 2015. The second picture shows some of the weapons belonging to the 223 sniper team, which were painted in a camo pattern.
Former members of the British military have also been seen with the YPG. Daniel Burke who is from Manchester, and fought alongside the YPG during several offensives. Burke has appeared together with Ollie Hall, who has also been announced as killed in action by an IED, he was also from Manchester and stated he joined YPG because he was angered by the Manchester Bomb attack.
Burke is particularly noteable because the tape used by Burke on his weapons shown in his pictures is also commonly used by UK special forces. Looking through his history, we can find photos of Burke when he was part of the 16th air assault brigade which spent time in Zabul, Afghanistan.
Another volunteer from the UK who goes by the name Macer Gifford was the ex-Commander of the Tactical Medical Unit. Grifford joined the YPG in 2015 but ended up leaving the same year. Gifford late went to Syria in 2016. Grifford has been interviewed by newspaper The Independent, and is back again in the UK where he is actively supporting the YPG, by launching events and trying to raise awareness regarding the situation in Syria. Gifford is active via social media as well and is often interviewed for his views on Syria is still being interviewed by diverse agencies, including by LBC.
Source: https://www.facebook.com/macergiffordfan/ — Grifford (right), his patch belongs to the MFS.
The last person I’d like to discuss is Huang Lei. While there are few photos of Lei in military uniform, there are pictures on his profile which shows Lei with the British Army, and articles which corroborate this. The picture was uploaded on 2012. Lei was involved in Raqqa offensive, and pictures confirm his presence in Syria. Lei is a British citizen, however he was born in China. Lei uploaded a picture on October 2016 while wearing vests of the Red crescent, an aid organisation, in the picture another foreigner, with allegedly asian origins can be seen. The picture is most likely from Syria or Iraq.
The vest read “Hayve Sor A Kurd”, which is Kurdish for the Kurdish Red Crescent. Mid and eastern asian fighters are rarely seen with YPG, as they mostly fight either from the 3 other main fighting forces in Syria. On a picture uploaded by Lei, several foreign fighters can be seen pictured in Raqqa. Another fighter which appears to be asian is the man sitting bottom left in the pic.
Here is another picture, screenshotted from a video, In the back, a fighter from Korean origin can be seen. Who this fighter is, is still unknown to me. The patch on his right arm marks the flag of South-Korea. This picture was taken at the final phase of the SDF’s offensive against IS’ positions near Hajin, southern Syria. The other man could not officially be identified, however, a foreign fighter going by the name Dan Baker uploaded this picture on his facebook. Another picture uploaded by Baker looks familiar, as the Camo, glasses and small beard match with the picture. .
German foreign fighters
Several German foreign volunteers have joined the YPG, amongst them Jan Lukas Kuhley, Rickard Lindgren, Robin, Martin Klamper who has been interviewed by lz.de.
Robin is particularly interesting because he was one of the four members of the 223 Sniper Squad along with Jac Holmes. Robin fought IS in Raqqa during the 2017 offensive and seems to still be participating with the SDF in combat operations as a sniper.
Robin claims to have received limited U.S. backing, on instagram, a picture can be seen with Robin claiming that he and other fighters went to a Special Forces base and were allowed to take as many MRE’s as they wanted. Although we cannot determine exactly who controls the base, Robin has made use of tags indicating it may be an American Special Forces bases.
The rifle Robin uses is an M16 with a suppressor, Thermal scope and flashlight, which are extremely rarely seen in Syria, unless in the hands of coalition forces in Syria. Robin claimed that he received this sniper from U.S. special forces in Syria.
Robin released pictures from Raqqa as well, here he can be seen with an M16 and a thermal scope attached. Robin’s past pictures on social media suggest he is ex-military, as pictures shared on his instagram show him possibly training and with the hashtag “Bundeswehr,” i.e. Germany’s unified armed forces.
Francophone foreign fighters
Some of the French foreign fighters stationed in Northern Syria are Damien Bopez, who claims he ‘resigned’ from the YPG in January 2018. Maxime Barrat, who has been pictured with Robin Agiri (Michael Israel) who had been killed by the Turkish army near Manbij on November 2016.
In an interview with Euronews it was claimed Barrat had contact with the Belgium authorities and secret services. This likely means Barrat lives in Belgium and not France. Another French foreign volunteer goes by the name “Abdurahman Ravachol”(Likely Nom-De-Guerre). Ravachol claims to be from Paris, and has significant interest in the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army of Ukraine, an Anarchist Army in Ukraine in the early 20th century.
The whiteboard reads “Death to all who stand in the way of freedom for a working people” The term “Kuvkaz” can also be seen on the board, which means Caucasia, a region on the eastern side of Turkey and the southern side of Russia.
Ravachol also has several tattoos representing the Black army and various phrases related to leftist ideological phrases.
Source: Facebook.com Tattoo allegedly reads “Supporter of love” in Russian.
Ravachol’s nom-de-guerre was inspired by a French anarchist executed in 1892 after he was found complicit in two bombings. Ravachol has been pictured with several foreign fighters, including Ollie Hall (KIA), Dan Newey, Daniel Burke and another fighter who remains unidentified.
Another Francophone fighter going by the Nom de Guerre of Qandil Azad who has shared pictures of combat against the Islamic state in rural areas of Northern Syria in a battle taking place around the area of Mahmudi village in Raqqa.
A youtube channel possibly associated with Azad also has two videos with videos from Syria Several foreign fighters can be seen in the long videos. In the second video, the foreign fighters speak about the possibility of a VBIED, a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, exploding in the area at 7:20. The fighters can be seen overlooking the rural areas while sitting on a rooftop. The 2 videos are named under the name “Çay, Cigarette et AK47” which means; Tea, Cigarettes and an AK-47. In the first video, 2 interesting DIY armored vehicles can be seen, (17:34 & 17:42).
These vehicles are stationed near Kobani, near the Turkish border. The videos don’t match the exact upload date, as clashes around Mahmudi village erupted on the first of January, 2017. On the 22th of January, 2019, the owner of the facebook page released a picture which showed that he is possibly back in France again.
Spanish foreign fighters
Spanish fighters represent a large group of foreign volunteers in the YPG with several fighters openly sharing stories and photos from Syria. Unlike the majority of foreign volunteers Juan Manuel Soria, who is an Ex-Spanish soldier from Valencia, is over 45 years old, married, and has kids. He fought for two years in Syria according to an article published by Elmundo.
Another fighter goes by the username “Tchecknas Roj” and claims to be from Malaga. Another fighter is “Juan Astray “EL Legionario”’, who was part of the Christian/Assyrian Dwekh Nawsha brigade and was part of the Spanish army. An article regarding Astray was published by El Espanyol.
Baran Galicia is an Spanish citizen who was killed by the Turkish army while fighting in Afrin during a military operation launched by the latter, named”Olive Branch”, which aimed to capture Afrin and its districts while he was fighting under the YBS. Several foreign fighters had been killed during the military offensive in Afrin. Olivier Le Clainche, nom-de-Guerre Kendal Breizh, whom is a French national. Anna campbell, Nom-de-Guerre Hêlîn Qereçox, a female with a British nationality, and Haukur Hilmarsson, Nom-de-Guerre Sahin Hüseyni, a Icelandic national. Several more foreigners, mostly from MLKP (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party), these fighters are Turkish citizens , which came from neighbouring Turkey.
The Spanish citizen killed here is named Samuel Prada Leon, Nom-de-Guerre Baran Galicia. Leon was part of the YBS (Sinjar Resistance Units), a brigade originating from the Sinjar region in Iraq. The international facebook page commendate and praise the Spanish fighter on their timeline
Source: Facebook.com Leon has been announced a “martyr” with a flag representing the Galicia region in Spain.
Most of the Spanish volunteers seem to favor joining the YBS, knows as the Sinjar Resistance Unit, It is often described as being a PKK-affiliate, including by Reuters. Joaquin Diaz is a notable Spanish volunteer in the YPG. Diaz is ex-military, and has released pictures of himself while in the Spanish army. Diaz was also interviewed by the Spanish media El Espanyol and discussed his past in the Spanish army.
Photo shared by Diaz of his time in the Spanish Army. Diaz is still in Syria, with his latest post was posted on 12–2–2019. We were not able to find pictures or videos of Diaz active in combat.
Diaz has also been pictured with Corey Wetherholt, an ex-U.S. soldier fighting in Syria.
Joaquin Diaz, Source: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100017477677624
Italian foreign fighters
Leftism has always played a major role in Italian society, with several leftist political organisations established after the death of Mussolini. Italian leftists maintain traditional leftist imagery and ideology in Syria.
This picture below shows the flag of Sardinia (Red cross), in the middle there is an Brittany Antifa flag. On the left there is an flag of Brittany itself, which is an region in northwestern France. One of the fighters killed from this area is Kendal Breizh (killed in Afrin),
Among fighters from Italy, there is Paolo Pachino (Real name Paola Andolina), which is an Italian citizen from Sicilia, part of the “Tabura Enternasyonal”, which is a small unit operating in northern Syria, with most members being foreigners from America, Canada, Germany, Italy and France, the commander of the group is Frenchman “Hogir”.
Pachino has been pictured with several Italians in Syria, including activist Jacopo Bindi, Riccardo Botan, who all seem to be back in Italy, after he posted a picture near a coffee shop. He was also in the same unit as Orso Dellatullo. Dellatullo, Andolina and Botan can all be seen wearing patches of Antifa. The picture below shows all four fighters, as well as an female fighter and 2 unknown fighters with an Italian communist party flag.
Andolina’s girlfriend, Ezel Anarşik Qertel Alcu, seems to be Kurdish. Alcu is an activist for the YPG, PKK, and Refugees. It is unknown if she also has been to Syria alongside Pachino, However, a picture was uploaded on the 13th of July, 2018, which sees both wearing a uniform which is typically being worn by YPG members
I could not find any footages confirming Andolina has engaged in actual combat against IS. Andolina was interviewed by “Il Mattino Di Sicilia”.
Orso Dellatullo is an Italian foreign fighter, which is also involved in the last offensive against IS forces in and around Hajin. The picture below shows Dellatullo with two IS captives, one from Tunisian origin, and the other from Uzbekistan. On the second of February, 2019, Dellatullo released pictures during clashes against IS, one of the picture shows him posing with a captured IS flag. Another picture released on the same date shows a drone in the hands of the Italian.
Orso Dellatullo (Right) with 2 foreign IS fighters, one from Tunisia, the other from Uzbekistan. Source: https://www.facebook.com/orso.dellatullo.1
Dellatullo can be seen wearing different type of patches on his arm, amongst them is the logo of Tikko, which is an armed Marxist-Leninist organisation fighting against the Turkish government. Another patch seen worn by Dellatullo is the patch of Antifa, another leftist organisation as well as wearing the patch of the YPG. Another patch seen worn by this fighter is the logo of the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces, which is an armed organisation with anarchist fighters from across the world, the group has announced to have been dissolved on the 24th of September, 2018, according to their Twitter page.
Dellatullo with an allegedly Antifa flag, Source: https://www.facebook.com/orso.dellatullo.1
Another patch worn by Dellatullo is a patch which reads “Bê Serok Jiyan Nabe”, which means “No life without the Leader Abdullah Öcalan”. He died fighting ISIS near Baghuz in 2019.
Other Italian foreign fighters in Syria are “Gaetano Lo Straniero” and Karim Franceschi, whom was part of an international brigade, within this brigade, several fighters can be identified, including Finnish citizens Ariel Sherwani and Bagog Kullervo
Scandinavian foreign fighters
Some of the most notable foreign fighters from Sweden are Jesper Söder, Rafael Kardari and Kendal Salem . Jesper Söder joined the fight against IS in 2015. Later that year, he was injured after a mineblast, in which his friend was killed. A book has been written about Söder by a foreign journalist named Johan Fredriksson, the book is named När världen tittade bort, which translates to “When the world looked away”. Söder has been both part of the YPG in Syria, and the Peshmerga in Iraq, as his Twitter profile describes, he is a Peshmerga commander in the PAK.
He also is a political member of the YPG/SDF. According to Reddit, Söder became a spokesman for the SDF later, according to a post on twitter. Söder has been pictured with several foreign fighters, including Reece Harding, an Australian (KIA), and former U.S. marine Danny Bagok.
Jesper Söder with an M16 rifle. Source: https://www.facebook.com/jesper.soder.9
Another Swede of note is Rafael Kardari. Kardari was actively fighting ISIS during 2015, alongside Americans like Jay Awaz, Justin Smith and Damien Rodriguez. A book written by Daniel Friddel has been dedicated to the story of Kardari whilst being in northern Syria.
Kardari’s joined the YPG after he had seen the crimes committed by militants of the Islamic state via TV and social media. A small video released by Kontro shows Kardari sharing his story, the video also includes small clips of combat. The small clips originate from an POV footage, originally uploaded by Kardari himself, now on youtube from the channel WarLeaks.
In February 2017, a Finnish citizen joined the YPG, Nom-De-Guerre Bagok Kullervo. Kullervo was part of the Finnish army. The Finish citizen is a reserve personnel of the Finnish army, with the rank of junior lieutenant. Kullervo is part of an international unit including Americans and Germans, with some being Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. When Kullervo went to Syria, he met another Finish citizen, Nom-De-Guerre Ariel Sherwani. Kullervo also took part in the offensive on Raqqa against IS, he claimed he is the leader of a unit, leading a pioneer group, according to an article published by Svenska. This article however, was published during the Raqqa offensive on the 15th of October, 2017.
Czech foreign fighter(s)
Daniel Birusk Kobane (Nom-De-Guerre), his real name seems to be Daniel Pastuszek. Daniel claims to have worked for an organisation called Hoplite Elite Protectors. This organisation is specialized in providing security across the world. Some of the specific things the organisation is specialized in is, as per their website, include kidnapping and assassination incidents and avoidance, surveillance detection and counter-surveillance techniques, as well as command post equipment and operations.
Several Facebook pages linked to this organisation, amongst them “SPEC Protect Team”, which is a Czech speaking Facebook page, have uploaded pictures from Kobani, Hasakah, local civilians and the countryside in Syria. The organisation also has a Twitter account, on which they claim they are contractors fighting in Syria. Their Twitter description reads, “We are contractors, we are these guys, which you need in war areas, when you need to be protected. Follow us.. contact us. Stay safe”.
The banner of the facebook page are Daniel Birusk Kobane and Tomas Samot Kobane, both can be seen together on multiple pictures. Tomas however, is reportedly back in the Czech republic again. Some of the messages on the page end with /Dan (Daniel) and /Tomas (Tomas), which would likely mean they are in control of the page itself. The Czech contractors are likely to be in control of the other Hoplite pages as well.
Daniel (Left) and Tomas (right). They both seem well armed, also using a helmet with a go-pro. They are both using different types of AK’s. In the back, an US-made Humvee vehicle can be seen, often used by the YPG and the Peshmerga. Source: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.pastuszek.1
Not only does the page post pictures from Syria, on the fifth of March, a shooting range held an event in Mikulov, Czech Republic. The “SPEC protection” page released pictures of one of its members participating during this event. The page named the folder “Velký střelecký den” which translates to Big Shooting day.
Tomas (left) and Daniel (Right) posing with an captured ISIS flag. On the arms, YPG patches can be seen in different style. Source: https://www.facebook.com/daniel.pastuszek.1
Dutch foreign fighters
A few Dutch fighters have made their way to Syria, and one of them, named Jitse Akse received a lot of attention from the media in 2016, because he was arrested after returning from Syria, but was not prosecuted and was ultimately freed. Akse was part of the Dutch army, and was deployed in Srebrenica under the Dutchbat. A bounty had also been put on Akse by IS sympathizers.
Jitske Akse in Syria, source: https://noventas.mobi/index.php/is-heeft-prijs-gezet-op-hoofd-jitse-akse/
Another Dutch fighter is Sjoerd Heeger (Nom-De-Guerre Baran Sason) (KIA). Sjoerd was killed by an SVBIED on the 15th of February while fighting against IS in Deir Ez zour province, the 24 year old also participated in Raqqa offensive. Not only did Heegers fight in Syria, he had also fought alongside the extreme right wing militias from Pravy Sektor (Right sector) from Ukraine against Russian separatists, Heegers said the war in Syria meant more to him because it was a battle for freedom, claiming the war in Ukraine is a battle of power. Heeger was active on websites where topics as ‘’pure Europe’’ were being discussed. Heeger was described as an ‘’typical war tourist’’ in Ukraine.
Heeger in Syria with Sores Sincar and “Nechirvan Efternamn” Source: Facebook.com
The last Dutch fighter I’d like to discuss is Devin Etem Soysuren (nom-de-guerre: Cudi Tohildan) . Devin is Half Kurdish and half Dutch, and hails from Brabant. Devin himself is part of a bikergang which goes by the name Median Empire MC, which I’ll discuss in more detail below.
Devin has claimed that he is not interested in killing others and that this is why he joined the Tactical Medical Unit. Devin often wears a patch representing the “Median empire army”. The number 135 is in the middle (M is the thirteenth of the alphabet, E is the fifth of the alphabet). Devin was in Tabqa, and could be seen pictured with Canadian foreign fighter Sores Sincar with a flag used by the Islamic State painted on a wall in the back. Several more fighters of this gang, allegedly Germans, have been seen pictured in Syria
Devin is charged with preparation of murder in Syria by the Dutch government. It seems Devin was part of the same unit as Damien Rodriguez, Ozkan Ozdil, Just J Schnepp, and Kevin Howard.
Devin with an YPG patch and a patch representing the Median Empire MC/Army, source: https://www.facebook.com/devin.e.soysuren
Israeli foreign fighters
Israel has been long supportive of the YPG on political grounds, however it has not assisted the YPG with military needs. Israeli foreigners are also scarce seen with the YPG. One of them is Robert Rênas Amos. Amos was active in 2015, fighting against IS near Tel Hamis . Amos has been pictured with several foreign fighters, including Russian foreigner Petr Simonov, who is possibly from St. Petersburg.
Another fighter seen with Amos is Mark Ramsay. Ramsay was part of a unit, together with Jac Holmes and “Kendal Salem”, as seen on a picture which seems to be the Euphrates. Amos fought for at least 6 months with the YPG, before heading back to Israel. Amos likes to compare the situation of the Kurds in Syria to the Jews in Israel.
An article written by Amos shows his story, how he compares Jews to the Kurds, his personal opinion regarding the YPG, the PKK, and other aspects of the Syrian civil war.
Amos with Ramsay and Simonov, source: https://www.facebook.com/robert.amos.email
Kurdistan to Ukraine
Many of the fighters and volunteers from international backgrounds have a history of joining various conflicts and international military units like the French Foreign Legion. Damien Rodriguez, an American citizen, has fought alongside the YPG during the period of 2015. Rodriguez fought alongside Polish foreigner Destina Azadi (Nom-De-Guerre), who left behind her kids and husband in Germany to join the YPG in Syria which was discussed when she was interviewed by Vice.
Low quality picture of Azadi (left) with Rodriguez (right). Source: https://www.facebook.com/damien.rodriguez.18
Rodriguez later left the YPG later and claimed to have joined the Ukrainian Naval Infantry. Rodriguez released several pictures while on the battlefield in Ukraine, fighting against the Russian separatists. on the 31th of January, Rodriguez can be seen with a Russian BTR-70 vehicle.
This is not the first person to have fought in Ukraine and also with the YPG. Dutch fighter Sjoerd Heegers also fought alongside Ukrainian forces against Russian separatists in Donbas. According to an article published on may 2017, quoting ANF, Rodriguez is one of the 9 foreign fighters which was taken into custody by KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government, northern Iraq) forces. Some of the foreign fighters which had been arrested are Callum Ross, from the UK, Ozkan Özdil. Anthony Del gatto (Ex-US army), Justin Schnepp, Mirko Bruna from Italy, Paola Andolina from Italy, Damien Rodriguez from the U.S. and Fernando Sanchez Grassa from Spain.
Damien Rodriguez with an Russian BTR-70 vehicle, in Ukraine, source: https://www.facebook.com/damien.rodriguez.18
TIKKO/Turkish originated leftist organisations
The TIKKO Communist Party of Turkey Marxist–Leninist is an left-wing, anti-Imperialist, and Marxist-Leninist armed organisation operating against Turkish government. TIKKO has sent several members to fight against the Islamic State in Kobani since 2014 and has been fighting IS ever since. The existence and activity of TIKKO in Syria has widely been reported by journalists and the organisation itself.
In 2011, the group announced the death of 5 “Guerillas” in an avalanche in Turkey’s southeastern Tunceli province, 4 of them being “commanders”. The group is also openly against the Syrian opposition, fighting the Turkish backed Rebels in Afrin. A website named Partizan-Online released a statement in Turkish, stating they will fight against Turkey and its allied rebel forces in Afrin.
The group is dominated by Turkish and Kurdish members, however, several foreigners including Germans have joined the organisation. On a Facebook page, belonging to the International Marxist-Leninist Rojava, they also write messages in German, French and Italian. On pictures released here, flags and logos of the Soviet union and TIKKO can be seen.
One of the most notable Tikko fighter killed in Syria, fighting against IS, is Commander Nubar Ozanyan (Nom-De-Guerre) Orhan Bakırcıyan. Ozanyan is an Armenian ethnic born in Turkey. According to online reports, Ozanyan had also fought against Azerbaijan during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. TIKKO like many other leftist organisations is part of the “International Freedom Battalion” (IFB). MLKP, another leftist organisation originating from Turkey, lost the first foreign female fighter in Syria, fighting against IS. 19 year old Ivana Hoffman was from Germany. The International Marxist-Leninist of Rojava also have a website, and a youtube channel.
Stay, Return, and the Future
While many fighters who have taken part in operations with the YPG, the SDF, or one of their many international brigades without any serious legal or political ramifications while operations against the Islamic State are the main focus.
Several countries like the US and Canada have seen many fighters publicly admit to joining the YPG and moving between Syria and their home country without any issues or prosecution by domestic authorities. Other countries like Denmark and Switzerland have made moves to prosecute fighters in the YPG.
However, several foreign fighters which returned from Syria, fighting alongside the YPG, have faced legal issues on their return. British nationals James Matthew and Aiden James have both been arrested and were accused of training in a place which is used for training terrorists, according to Independent. A book has been written about the experience of Matthew in Syria. The charges he faces were eventually dropped. .
Aidan James was arrested upon his arrival at Liverpool airport and then sent to Belmarsh prison, he has been there since the 14th of February, 2018. James is being accused of 3 terror charges, which are one count of preparation of acts of terrorism and two of attendance at a place used for terrorist training. James’ trial will begin on the 1st of April till the 12th of April of 2019. According to an article published by the Independent, James denied he travelled to Syria to fight against IS.
A Facebook page and website have been created asking for Aidan James to be freed.
James was later jailed for 4 years for two drugs related offences (before heading to Syria) and being present at a training camp used by the PKK, according to BBC.
Aidan James in Syria, behind him is an American Humvee. Source: Facebook.com
One of the most notable Danish foreigner fighters, fighting in Syria is Joanna Palini. Palini is a Danish citizen with Kurdish roots, she was born in Iraq and went to Denmark at the age of 3. Palini went to Syria and Iraq fight against the Islamic state alongside the YPJ (Female branch of the YPG) and the Peshmerga (In Iraq). She reportedly took part in the defense of Kobani. Palini claimed she was trained inside and outside areas held by Kurds, being trained by different organisations. In 2016, she was prosecuted by Danish authorities upon her return to Denmark. Palini was sentenced to 9 months in Jail for violating her travel ban, according to Kurdistan24.
Palini with 2 fighters which wear traditional Kurdish clothes. Source: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4170840/Joanna-Palani-admits-sniper-fights-Isis.html
Another Danish volunteer is Tommy Morck. Morck first faced 6 months of jail time, however, the prosecutor find the punishment to mild and asked for an higher sentence, which can go up to 6 years. He also took part in Raqqa operation.
While Western countries either move to prosecute or tolerate fighters coming back, members who are part of criminal organizations remain to be addressed. Countries like the Netherlands and Germany, who have seen the largest amount of Motorcycle Club members go to fight in Syria, could potentially face members who return with military training and experience.
With most major NATO members openly supporting the YPG a larger problem exists that has already put significant pressure on allies in one most historically important military alliances. Turkey, who considers the YPG an extension of the PKK, has long spoken out against cooperation between its allies and the YPG. They have backed and conducted multiple operations with Syrian rebel groups to capture territory held by the SDF and continue a low-level conflict with the PKK.
NATO, and many other countries who have generally positive relations with Turkey, have also designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.
In 2017 Turkey conducted airstrikes against targets within Iraq that they accused of being PKK affiliated. The conflict continues with minor operations by both in south east Turkey.
As hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers return home their countries of origin face uncertainty in how they will handle relations with Turkey. With so many allies harboring what Turkey considers a Terrorist organization, this may push Turkey further away from allies and even within NATO itself.
In 2018 Turkey arrested former British soldier Joe Robinson after he went on vacation with his fiancee in Turkey. Robinson claimed he had only joined in a medical capacity, but was sentenced to seven years in jail for his role in the YPG. He later left Turkey back to the UK while on bail.
Foreign nationals have died fighting groups backed by Turkey in Afrin. Countries that do decide that relations with Turkey are more important may result in increased prosecution. Despite even having safety in their home countries, travel abroad to countries who also recognize Turkey’s position on the YPG may draw countries previously not involved at any level with this situation to be drawn in.
Ukraine, where a few fighters who volunteered in the YPG are currently fighting, may be one of these areas. With Turkey increasingly become warmer to Russia and Putin, how Turkey, whose NATO allies currently support the Ukrainian government, is regarding these fighters status may push Turkey and NATO into diplomatic areas where it was not involved before.
How the international community decides to handle, or not handle, these fighters as they return home or go on to other conflicts may be the next roadblock for Turkey and its allies. Russia may even be able to leverage this as it seeks to further destabilize NATO.
Written by Arslon Xudosi