In his first interview after winning the presidency, Donald Trump hinted that he will shift policy in the Syria conflict from one of support for the moderate opposition to collaboration with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. “Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS,” Trump said. As for the rebels that the U.S. has backed fitfully for the past three years, he said: “We have no idea who these people are.”
But the president-elect appears to be ill-informed about Assad’s key role in the rise of the so-called Islamic State.
This three-part series documents the Syrian dictator’s sinister contributions to this tale of terrorism and horror. First, he tried to ingratiate himself with Western leaders by portraying the national uprising against him as a terrorist-led revolt. When that failed, he released jailed Islamic extremists who’d fought against U.S. troops in Iraq, then staged phony attacks on government facilities, which he blamed on terrorists. Far from fighting ISIS, Assad looked the other way when it set up a state-within-a-state with its capital in Raqqa, and left it to the U.S. and others to counter the Islamic extremists.
(…) political activist Abdullah Hakawati thought he knew what to expect when Bashar al-Assad’s military intelligence arrested him for a second time in September 2011. He was hanged by his hands for four days. They beat him with clubs and iron bars, and used electric prods on his genitals, he says. Then came the surprise: he was sentenced to a lockup where his cellmates were hardcore al Qaeda veterans, newly transferred from Syria’s political prisons.
“It was the first time I saw someone from the al Qaeda movement face to face,” said Hakawati, an actor who’d played the lead role in an anti-regime play that spring and had helped organize demonstrations in Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city. “They threatened to slaughter me because I’m an atheist and I do not pray.”
Mixing civic activists with al Qaeda veterans was no accident.
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