VanDyke, 'Arab Spring freedom fighter,' planning trip to Syria

Matthew VanDyke, the Baltimore man who was captured in Libya last year while fighting with the rebels who eventually overthrew dictator Moammar Gadhafi, says he is now raising money to travel to Syria and film a documentary about the uprising there.

“I stand with the rebels,” VanDyke, 33, told the Canadian network CTV in an interview this week. “I’m going to make a film in support of the Syrian rebels with the idea of improving their international image and increasing the flow money and weapons to them.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad responded to mostly peaceful protests last year with military force, turning the Arab Spring uprising into a civil war. The regime has used aircraft and tanks to pound rebels and civilians.

Opposition groups say 400 Syrians, including civilians, were killed last week when Syrian troops stormed the Damascus suburb of Daraya. The regime says the dead were terrorists.

Estimates of total deaths during the 17-month uprising range to more than 25,000.

A spokeswoman for Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who helped to locate VanDyke last year when he was held for more than five months by the Gadhafi regime, declined to comment on VanDyke’s plans.

The State Department, which was also involved in the effort last year, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

VanDyke, who describes himself on his web page as an Arab Spring Freedom Fighter, told CTV he is going to Syria not to fight, but to film.

“It will be a long, drawn-out fight if the world doesn’t get involved,” he said. “If the free Syrian Army doesn’t have the weapons they need.

“This film is intended to improve their image with the idea that donations will increase – donations will increase for communications equipment and for weapons, also.

“Also, hopefully the Arabic version of the film will encourage more Syrians to join the Free Syrian Army and rise up against Assad. And hopefully encourage people in other countries to protest or revolt for their freedom as well.

Van Dyke traveled to Libya in March 2011 to join the uprising there. Within a week, he was captured by forces loyal to Gadhafi, and held in solitary confinement in Tripoli before escaping in August.

He called prison “absolute hell.”

“You know, nothing to do except stare at the walls basically for 165 days,” he said. “They didn’t tell me what I was accused of. If I would ever be released.

“I could hear people being interrogated or tortured at night, sometimes.”

His involvement in Syria, he said, is different from his commitment to Libya.

“I had many friends in Libya,” he said. “So when I went to Libya, it was personal. I was helping personal friends of mine to overthrow the regime.

“This time, it’s a little more ideological. I saw the effects of what we did in Libya. I saw the success that we achieved. And I want Syrians to also have a bright future, able to choose their own leaders.”

VanDyke has described his plans to CNN and CTV. He told CTV he prefers to travel more quietly, but wants to raise money for his documentary.

“People have asked me for months since Libya how they can get involved, what they can do to help Syria,” he said. “And this is my way of giving them something to do. So I’ve put it out there.

“You know, nobody knows exactly when I’m going to Syria, where I’ll be. … There’s still a level of operational security. But this is definitely a risk, to do it this way.”

He said he was in Libya in June, and was “optimistic” for its future.

“The situation’s on track,” he said.

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