The war in Syria has seen the emergence of a variety of groups of muhajireen/muhajiroun. The term literally means 'migrants' but is used in this context to refer to the foreigners who came to Syria on the side of the insurgents. Many of these groups were absorbed into larger factions, but one of them still stands out as an independent entity today: Firqatul Ghuraba ('Division of the Strangers'), a group founded by French muhajireen and led by Omar Omsen. Recently the group came to renewed media attention following the arrest of Omar Omsen by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the largest faction in Idlib and its environs.
To discuss the history of Firqatul Ghuraba in greater depth and highlight in more detail the controversy about the arrest of Omsen, I conducted an interview with his son. This interview is presented below. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Q: There are many of our brothers who do not know Firqatul Ghuraba. When was Firqatul Ghuraba established and why? Are all the members of Firqatul Ghuaraba French muhajiroun?
A: In the name of Allah and praise be to Allah, and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah.
Firqatul Ghuraba is a union of many French muhajiroun that was for some already there and was unified at the end of 2013 before the fighting between the factions of the liberated areas and the Dawla [Islamic State group]. My father was designated emir of the Battalion by all the brothers of the group.
Before the jihad in Syria, the majority of the brothers who are currently in the group already had the project of leaving France for the jihad and to be able to live among the Muslims under an Islamic government that governs by what Allah has revealed. But when the jihad in al-Sham started, the Ansar needed aid to repel the Syrian regime, so the jihad became fard ayn [individual obligation] for the Muslims nearest to al-Sham, until it became obligatory for us who were in France, as we could not bear the fact that Muslims were calling on us for help while we were living in tranquillity in France. We therefore responded to the cries of the women and children of the land of al-Sham, deciding to bring them our help with our people, all in response to the religious obligation to leave the lands of Kufr where we cannot apply our religion correctly and that to respond to the call of the Muslim who calls for the jihad of the Syrian Muslims.
Firqatul Ghuraba was founded on several bases, of which the fact of being able to fight for the long term, because for us, even if it is heavily curbed by internal conflicts, the jihad is far from being finished, whether in Syria or in the other lands where the Muslims call for help.
In Firqatul Ghuraba the majority of the brothers and sisters were born in France, but it also has some Ansar, both men and women.
Q: In which battles have you fought and how many martyrs do you have?
A: The first battle took place in the region of Homs at the start of 2014 where one brother was killed.
Kesab: three battles among them on Mount Salma.
Latakia: we participated in eleven battles and some twenty responses to the advance of the regime in Kabana where five brothers were killed.
Aleppo: three battles, among them the attack on the second siege of the city, where one brother was killed.
Hama: two battles where three brothers fell.
Since seven years, more than twenty battles and some ribat defence points. Ten brothers have been killed and we ask Allah to accept them.
Q: Is Firqatul Ghuraba affiliated with any faction now? For example two years ago I heard that Firqatul Ghuraba is affiliated with the Turkestan Islamic Party? Is this information correct? Is it possible you can explain the history of Firqatul Ghuraba in Syria and with which factions it has worked?
A: As my father has explained to the journalist Wassim Nasr, Firqatul Ghuraba is independent and this has been since the beginning of its creation. We have never been part of the Turkestan Islamic Party, but we fought alongside them from 2016 until the beginning of 2018. From 2013 until 2016 we worked with several groups militarily of the Ansar and Muhajiroun.
Q: In the current situation what are the activities that Firqatul Ghuraba does on the ground? For example da'wa? Education?
A: Right now we are focused on da'wa, learning science and commerce, praise be to Allah. And education has always been a part of Firqatul Ghuraba because there needs to self-education to improve our behaviour, to get nearer to Allah, to prepare oneself to be able to face the future trials that we will experience in the land of al-Sham. Education of the soldiers is an obligation for all organisations today, lest they should contain thereafter bandits in their ranks. For more than seven years the group has been advancing and praise be to Allah all the world changes by virtue of the laws that have been established.
Q: Why did Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham arrest Omar Omsen? What are the accusations? How do you respond to the accusations?
A: They arrested them [Omsen et al.] following a call to a reconciliation with a very small dispute with some Turkistanis. Once they were among them [i.e. once Omsen et al. arrived at the court for the purported reconciliation],** they were arrested. Thereafter the media official of HTS Taqi al-Din Omar published a message claiming that the reason for their arrest was because we assert our independence and the fact that we conduct our marriages, put people in prison, and apply some corporal punishments without personnel having authorised competence to do so, and the fact that there are some interferences by my father in the common treasury. We have responded to all the accusations of Taqi al-Din Omar in our video 19HH Reputation and these accusations are in reality unfounded or false.
Q: Finally do you have a message for the Ummah?
A: We have no message for the Ummah today, but we have a message to pass on to HTS. We are muhajiroun and you are supposed to be the Ansar. We must all return to the goal for which we fight, which is the fact of getting rid of the aggressor then governing by the justice of Allah on the prophetic methodology. The accusations of Taqi al-Din Omar, we are ready to respond to them before the Shari'a, because we know that our way of life contains no contradictions with the Sunna. And what could be finer than to be judged by that which Allah has revealed?
We did da'wa for more than five years before the jihad started in al-Sham. Many of the brothers in the Francophone countries follow us via our media organ 19HH. This media organ does not please the Francophone unbelievers, because it has been by the grace of Allah one of the main causes of the departure of Francophone Muslims towards al-Sham. Therefore France has put a bounty on my father's head since a long time now. And Allah has said: 'And whoever takes for allies Allah, His Messenger and the believers, (will succeed) because it is the party of Allah that will be victorious.'*
*(Update 28 September 2020): Last paragraph slightly modified as per request of the interviewee, who wished to express himself more clearly.
**(Update 1 October 2020): Further clarification added in square brackets.
(Appendix note update): For reference, here is the statement issued on 1 September 2020 CE by 'Taqi al-Din Omar' about the arrest of Omar Omsen:
'Clarification about the arrest of the Frenchman 'Omar Songho':
After a number of cases were raised against him, and many of the violations that 'Songho' committed during the time of his presence in the north of Syria, the relevant authorities decided to detain him and follow up with him on accusations summarised as follows:
- His individual possession of a quasi-mini administration particular to him and the people of his area, including most of the civil proceedings connected with personal circumstances like marriage, divorce and transactions.
- His undertaking of a number of criminal procedures like organising trials and the presence of a mini prison in his area (the camps) and what that includes from bringing down punishments and reprimands on the 'violators.' All of this and other things besides it are far removed from the relevant administration of the north of Syria.
- All of these proceedings with the lack of suitability and lack of expertise are indeed a gate of sowing corruption and evil, resulting in the loss of rights and violating taboos. And indeed the official authorities after exhausting efforts to regulate the civilian and criminal file will not allow these procedures at all.
Taqi al-Din Omar: Media Relations Office
1 September 2020.'