"The man wearing the balaclava had eyes that never stopped smiling. Reclining on a pillow in an otherwise empty room, this burly, 41-year-old commander of Jabhat Al Nusra - the most fearsome jihadi group in Syria - exuded an almost disturbing calm, in marked contrast to the loud, chatty air that often characterises more mainstream groups of the Free Syrian Army.
Sitting in an unheated room furnished with only a carpet and a few pillows, Abu Ahmed described a new Syria, where alcohol and tobacco would be banned. "These rules will be introduced gradually. We will advise people at first," he said when this journalist pointed out that enforcing such a law would be difficult in a country where smoking is so widespread.
Abu Ahmed's mild, friendly manner and relaxed delivery contrasted sharply with the dourness of his vision. He seemed to enjoy the discussion and being challenged. When asked if his ultra-conservative vision would not cause Syria to fall behind in a world dominated by scientific rationalism and liberal capitalism, he smiled and said: "If so, then that is fine. You can have this world and we will have the next."" (thanks Basim)