Western jihadist explains why he fights in Syria

SYRIA, NEAR TURKEY BORDER - After months of negotiations, a 26 year old Dutch fighter called Yilmaz agreed to meet with CBS News. Born in Holland, he is one of the thousands of jihadis fighting in Syria.

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Dutch-born Yilmaz speaks with CBS News' Clarissa Ward about why he joined the Syrian jihadis.
CBS News

"I would fight anybody," said Yilmaz. "Even if it was my own father that was bombing these people, I would fight him and kill him myself."

When asked if Syria felt like his home, Yilmaz replied:

"Yes, of course, of course. We left everything behind, when we migrated, everything, everything, our families our friends, basically our future."

He was a soldier with the Dutch army. But when special forces turned him down, he quit. Around the same time, the uprising in Syria began. Yilmaz said his world was turned upside down by the endless gruesome videos of the Assad regime's brutal crackdown.

"So I felt the need as a person, as a human, and, of course, as a Muslim," says Yilmaz. "Because it was the Muslims that were getting crushed in Syria, that I had to stand up and do stuff."

So two years ago, without telling his family, he left Holland and traveled to northern Syria to fight with the rebels and work as a military trainer.

Asked if he missed anything about home or the West, Yilmaz smiles.

"The food, electricity, warm water, good food," he said. "These are the things that I miss -- but the West? Ugh, hypocrisy. It's filled with hypocrisy."

Yilmaz has become more extreme during his two years in Syria. He does not fight with ISIS, but he won't condemn them either. He argues that their crimes pale in comparison to those of the Assad regime.

Asked about ISIS's tactics, beheading people and committing war crimes, Yilmaz replies:

"War crimes, and what's a war crime? More than 200,000 dead -- that is not a war crime? Barrel bombs, chemical attacks -- is that not a war crime?"

Yilmaz's ultimate goal is to overthrow the Assad dictatorship. But his idea of what should replace it is radically different from the U.S.-backed moderate rebels.

"We don't want you," said Yilmaz. "We want our own laws. We want our own rules."

"We want Islamic law," said Yilmaz. "It's the only solution."

Asked about the millions of Syrians who don't want to live under Islamic law, Yilmaz was emphatic.

"No!" said Yilmaz. "Who are these people then? We are fighting for our country."

Assad is not the only enemy these days. Recent U.S.-led airstrikes against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria have re-ignited the belief that the west is fighting a war on Islam.

"The American government, the American lobby, that's waging this crusade against the Muslims all around the world, they've always been our enemy," said Yilmaz.

Asked is he thinks that there will be more terrorist attacks on America Yilmaz replied:

"If you keep on poking and cornering a wild dog, that wants nothing but his freedom, wallahi, he will bite you and he will bite you hard. And this fight never ends. Never ends. This is our religion. This is our faith. This is what we believe in."

Yilmaz said that he has no intention of returning home to Holland and that he couldn't even if he wanted to since he is too well known. With this burst of anti-American sentiment that we're seeing in Syria now, there are concerns about American jihadis who could potentially return home.

Wednesday, on "The CBS Evening News," Ward talks with an American-born fighter about his journey from a college student in the Midwest to a fighter with a group that's backed by al Qaeda.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News