Armenia Charges 2 Mercenaries with International Terrorism; Publishes their Testimonies
“We were ordered to slaughter every Armenian in the village,” said a Turkish-paid Syrian mercenary who was captured by Artsakh Forces and is currently one of two foreign jihadists being charged by Armenia’s authorities for international terrorism. He told interrogators on Tuesday that in addition to his promised monthly $2000 stipend, he and others were offered $100 for every Armenian they beheaded.
When he was captured on Sunday by Artsakh Defense Army forces, the Syrian citizen introduced himself as Yusuf Alaabet al-Hajji and said he was a resident of the Ziyadiya village in the Jisr al-Shughur region of Idlib province of Syria. On October 30, another Ankara-backed mercenary calling himself Mehrab Muhammad al-Shkheir from the Syrian city of Hama was also captured, with Armenia’s authorities filing similar charges against him.
In their testimonies the two terrorists provided detailed information about their recruitment process, the expected monthly payment for fighting against “kafirs” (infidels), the extra payment for the each beheaded Armenian, as well as about other orders they had to follow, which both said were given by Turkish and Azerbaijani military commanders.
Armenian authorities have warned since the onset of the war that the involvement of foreign mercenaries not only destabilized the region, but aimed to give the Karabakh conflict religious undertones of Muslims against Christians.
Yerevan has pledged to take consistent steps in the fight against international terrorism and has offered to cooperate with “interested partners.”
Both al-Hajji and al-Shkeir had similar stories of being recruited by the same leader of a Syrian mercenary unit who is known as Abu Hamsha.
“Fifteen days ago, in the evening, my friend Ibrahim, whom we call Abu Ahmad and whom I’ve known for a long time from our neighboring village of Sahan came to my house. Abu Ahmad made an offer to me to go to Azerbaijan for money. I asked him the purpose and he told me that military exercises are held there. I was promised a monthly $2000 payment for taking part in the military exercises. My family—my wife and my father—didn’t want me to go, while my brothers were unaware about this. Abu Ahmad said there are several others from the neighboring Sararif and Sahamn villages who already been been in Azerbaijan month,” al-Hajji told investigators in Armenia in his deposition.
He said he was ordered not to take anything with him, including his identification papers.
The mercenary explained that he was then transported from the village of Ziyadiya to the Bab al Salam checkpoint, which is located in a Syrian territory controlled by Abu Hamsha.
Nearly 500 people were gathered there, all of whom were Syrian Arabs, he said.
“At 8 o’clock in the morning Abu Hamsha’s brother Seif arrived. When he arrived he told us that we are not being forced to go, but we will be paid $2000 a month if we did. Whoever doesn’t want to go can go back, but he said that if we decide to go to Azerbaijan and then express desire to return from there, he will shoot us in the legs and not allow us to return. Abu Hamsha’s brother then started choosing the ones who would go,” the mercenary said, adding that the recruiter was selecting fighters between the ages of 20 and 40. Al-Shkeir, the other Syrian mercenary in Armenian custody has also mentioned Abu Hamsha, whom he had identified as the commander of the Suleyman Shah brigade.
Along with 500 other mercenaries, al-Hajji was taken to 10 large buses. Seif, who was accompanying them, told him that another group of 500 mercenaries had already departed for Azerbaijan earlier.
“We crossed the Syria-Turkey border through a checkpoint. Turkish soldiers and people with civilian clothing were guarding the border checkpoint, they didn’t ask us anything, they didn’t check for documents, they only counted,” he said.
Al-Hajji said that two and a half hours later they arrived at a civilian airport, where the 500 mercenaries were rushed onto two civilian planes flying under the Turkish flag. He said no one asked them anything at the airport. The mercenary testified that he saw Turkish soldiers there. After reaching a second civilian airport, they were taken on board another aircraft, this time flying under the Azerbaijani flag, again without the customary security inspections. The plane then landed in Azerbaijan.
In Azerbaijan, the 500 Syrian mercenaries were met by Azerbaijani and Turkish soldiers and taken to a military base, where again both soldiers from Azerbaijan and Turkey were present.
“We could differentiate the Turkish soldiers from the flags on their uniforms. On the first day they gave us dog tags with numbers on them and took photos of us with them around on our neck. On the second day they gave us uniforms and weapons in the military base. They gave us Russian-made assault rifles, AK machine guns and RPGs, sniper rifles and ammunition. The high-ranking Turkish and Azerbaijani servicemen had body armor, but they didn’t give us any. They told us to get ready for deployment the next day,” said al-Hajji who said that he and his group arrived in Azerbaijan on October 18.
“Our commander at the military base was Sheikh Ibrahim. On the third day, together with Sheikh Ibrahim we left the base and arrived in another military base which was about four hours away. There, Abu Hamsha was with Sheikh Ibrahim, and around five people armed with handguns were escorting them, and an additional 500 Syrian Arabs who came to fight for money were at this base. There were also Turkish and Azerbaijani servicemen there who were talking to Sheikh Ibrahim and Abu Hamsha. Abu Hamsha was leading the group and was responsible for the hired mercenaries coming from Syria to Azerbaijan,” he said, adding that Abu Hamsha ordered them to “not spare anyone.”
“He told us we should slaughter, kill all Armenians, and meanwhile the Turkish and Azerbaijani servicemen were also coming and ordering us to kill and slaughter each and every Armenian. Abu Hamsha, as well as the Turkish and Azerbaijani servicemen, were telling us that each of us would receive extra $100 payments for beheading an Armenian,” said al-Hajji.
The captured mercenary recounted that they were armed with long knives.
He said that the Azerbaijani officers gave drugs to those who seemed afraid.
“I personally witnessed how the Azerbaijani armed forces servicemen were giving the drugs—tablets—to our Syrian guys. I didn’t take it myself, but many of our guys did,” al Hajji said.
According to the testimony, on the seventh day, they were taken on pickup trucks led by Abu Hamsha and Sheikh Ibrahim. Then, they walked about seven kilometers. There, they were ordered to stand in formation at six meters distance from each other, remain silent and communicate only with gestures.
“We were escorted by Sheikh Ibrahim and two Azerbaijani servicemen. Sheikh Ibrahim told us that we must capture the Armenian village in front of us, and we must slaughter all civilians and soldiers there. When we approached the Armenian village, we came under fire, and also mortar fire,” explained al Hajji who said that at that point 15 of his fellow mercenaries were killed, calling the operation “a failure.”
“We had to escape into the mountains. When we fled, I wasn’t wounded yet, we were lost, we went by a path until we found the Azerbaijanis who had accompanied us, they took us through another path, but during this the Armenians began shooting at us. I got injured, after which for five days, no one asked me about my condition and no one seemed interested in how I was doing. After three days, I began moving toward the Armenian positions. The Armenians gestured to me from a distance telling me that I was safe. When I approached them they took me to their position, treated my wounds, gave me food and water. They took me to safety, they didn’t harm me, they helped and treated me well, may God bless them,” al Hajji said.
The captured mercenary expressed his gratitude to the Armenian soldiers for saving his life and for not treating him badly.
“I want to thank Armenians, they helped me, they treated me, they saved my life,” said al Hajji. “We were wrong to have come here, they – the Armenians — are much better that we thought, they treated us, treated us well, may God bless them.”
“I, Yusuf Alaabet al-Hajji, am stating that anyone who is planning to go to Azerbaijan should not take that step, because Armenians are very good people, they saved me from death, they helped me. I am urging you all, if they try to deceive you and attempt to lure you with money against this country and Armenians, don’t go, even if you are poor, it is better to stay poor than to go to Azerbaijan and fight for money,” declared the captive.
“The Azerbaijanis call the Armenians infidels, but they themselves are the infidels. We are infidels for coming here and fighting against these good people, I was injured for five days in Azerbaijan and no one helped me, but the Armenians did, they helped me and treated my wounds,” he said.
The circumstances and story recounted by the other captured and charged mercenary, Muhammad Al-Shkheir, are almost identical in their details, which reinforce what Armenian authorities have been saying since Azerbaijan began its aggressive attacks against Artsakh, backed by Turkish forces and their pair terrorists.
According to Gor Abrahamyan, an advisor to Armenia’s Prosecutor General, the two have been charged with international terrorism.
“It is an essential characteristic that these groups are given orders not only to take part in hostilities against the Defense Army of the Republic of Artsakh, but also to commit war crimes of a terrorist nature against humans,” said Abrahamyan.
“According to the testimony of Mehrab Muhammad Al-Shkheir, in particular, they were ordered to attack a specific Armenian village in Artsakh, capture it, kill all its civilian residents and military personnel. [They were also ordered to] carry out arson attacks, explosions and destabilize the region. This order could not be carried out in this case only because the group met resistance from Artsakh Defense Army and had to retreat,” explained Abrahamyan.
A third mercenary was captured in Artsakh and spent 10 days in a hospital being treated by Armenian medical personnel.