December 17, 2013
In a farmhouse in eastern Syria, a group of men sat around a teapot observing it jiggle over a pile of burning paper bills. Lacking fuel, a charming rebel leader playfully told his comrades that he would make them tea by lighting Syrian pounds under the pot, a statement that soon turned into a dare. Minutes later, the 35-year-old man proudly poured black tea for his guests in small glass cups.
Saddam al-Jamal’s friends narrate this anecdote, which they say took place a few months ago, to illustrate their commander’s humour and free spirit. Jamal headed the Allahu Akbar Brigade, which was once one of the most effective groups fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the province of Deir Ezzor.
Its fighters operate under the loose umbrella of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA). Jamal was not only the leader of a battalion but also a top FSA commander for the whole of Syria’s eastern region.