Born in 1981 and a father of four, Moroccan Rachid Lemlihi thought he knew about jihad in the Middle East from social networking sites and satellite TV.
But when he eventually joined other young men from the Maghreb in Syria, he learned just how wrong he'd been about the reality there.
Lemlihi fled for home, was arrested upon his return and now awaits trial from a Moroccan prison cell. He faces five years on terrorism charges. He is eager to warn others about his experience in Syria.
Khabar: What made you think about going to Syria to fight?
Lemlihi: I used to feel pain whenever I saw or heard about the suffering of the Syrian people. The news, satellite channels and internet websites carried such news day and night and depicted how they were being killed and displaced in their own country… Anyway, I travelled to Syria … to help.
Khabar: There are others like you, who left their homes in North Africa to join the foreign fighters in Syria. Why go, if you weren't looking for a battle?
Lemlihi: I'll be frank with you. I went to Syria to support the Arab Syrian people, and I felt a certain type of responsibility towards them. Unfortunately, I found another reality different from that carried by the media and YouTube videos where there is that continuous show of victims and destruction.
I didn't have enough information to judge things, I came with a view and an idea that I wanted to defend, but I was shocked because I found a completely different reality. Arab fighters are not welcome in Syria in general….
I've lived the conflicts among movements and factions and daily infighting between Ansar al-Sham, Free Syria Army and other groups, with each group and faction fighting another.
There were Moroccan young people in one group who came to fight against Bashar's forces, only to find themselves fighting other Moroccans in another group.
We came to fight al-Assad's army and support the Syrian people, but we were shocked with another reality; factions and fronts fighting each other while al-Assad's forces are getting stronger and are killing all.
Khabar: What happened once you saw the reality on the ground?
Lemlihi: I was afraid to die for a cause I no longer believed in.
I thought I was wrong because I left my family and children and rushed to Syria where I was shocked with the daily infighting between people.
I started to feel that my presence in Syria was a big mistake, and I had three options: stay until I die for a cause I no longer felt comfortable with or believed in; travel to Turkey or to another place where I would live alone until I died; or return and bear the consequences ….
Khabar: What advice can you give other young men who are thinking about going to Syria?
Lemlihi: I want to tell them the following: "Don't run after illusions and don't believe videos in which Syrians appear calling for assistance and support."
When I was there, many young people active on Facebook using aliases asked me about jihad and fighting in Syria. I told them: "Don't come. Stay in your country because I regretted coming in search of a mirage."
There's nothing in Syria except factions and groups fighting each other. This type of fighting is not accepted by any mind or logic. These are the words of someone who lived the experience. Don't be deceived. Going to Syria is an adventure of unknown consequences. As to reward, there is none…. The only reward there is death....