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Ex-City broker taking fight to Islamic State in Syria

Macer Gifford says the militant group is an ‘exceptional’ opponent in the war against terror.

A former City broker in London who volunteered to join the fight against Islamic State in Syria has insisted the only way to defeat the militants is “with force of arms”.

Macer Gifford went to Syria three years ago to volunteer first with the Kurdish militia, and is now fighting with an Assyrian unit, part of the US-backed forces battling IS.

The 30-year-old Briton has been questioned by UK and US government officials, but insists: “I am not a terrorist. I am here defending the people of Syria against terrorists.”

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Macer Gifford is fighting with an Assyrian unit (Hussein Malla/AP)

At home, he has written and lectured about the complex situation in Syria, offering a first-hand experience of IS’s evolving tactics, and believes the militants can only be defeated by sheer force.

“The Islamic State (group) is actually an exceptional opponent,” he said. “We can’t negotiate them away, we can’t wish them away. The only way we can defeat them is with force of arms.”

Along with two American comrades, he has been facing IS snipers on the front line in the ravaged city of Raqqa.

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Macer Gifford looks onto an Islamic State controlled street in Raqqa (Hussein Malla/AP)

They are among several British and American volunteers involved in the battle for the city in north-eastern Syria that the militants declared the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate.

The men joined US-allied Syrian militias for different reasons — some motivated by survivors’ stories of the unimaginable brutality of IS; others joined what they see as a noble quest for justice and a final battle with the “heart of darkness”, in a belief that violence can only be met with violence.

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Macer Gifford was working in the City of London as a broker before joining the war effort (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Taylor Hudson, a 33-year old from California, compares the fight for Raqqa to the 1945 Battle of Berlin in the Second World War that was critical to ending the rule of Adolf Hitler.

“This is the Berlin of our times,” said Mr Hudson, who doubles as a platoon medic and a sniper. For him, IS extremists “represent everything that is wrong with humanity”.

Syria’s war, in its seventh year, has attracted foreign fighters to all sides of a complicated conflict.

Islamic extremists from Europe, Asia and North Africa have boosted the ranks of IS, as well as rival al Qaida-linked groups.

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The aftermath of a coalition air strike in Raqqa (Hussein Malla/AP)

Shiite Iranian and Lebanese militias have sided with the Syrian government, deepening the sectarian nature of the conflict that has killed more than 400,000 people and displaced over 11 million, half of Syria’s pre-war population.

On the other side, though far less in number than the thousands of foreigners who swelled IS ranks, most Western foreign volunteers have been drawn to the US-allied Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, known as the YPG.

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A militia member burns an Islamic State flag in Raqqa (Hussein Malla/AP)

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