Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted the recent Geneva II peace conference to focus on terrorism. He says terrorism is the main problem and the looming danger in Syria and he knows he has an audience in the West. If we look back on Assad’s past, we can see that he has always had a curious history with terrorists, rhetorically fighting them here, utilizing them there, setting them up, making whatever use of “the terrorist” he can to advance his position. Never has that been more true than in the last three years in Syria.
This post will review the current threat to the Syrian revolution posed by the two major Islamist terror groups, Jan al-Nusra [JAN] and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIS]. We will look at their origins, including early connections to Baathists and Assad, before examining his regime`s use of staged “terror attacks” and phony reports. Then we will look at the history of the Assad regime with these groups and some of their leading personalities and review the evidence that has accumulated to date that points to a close and controlling relationship between Bashar al-Assad and important elements within ISIS and JAN.
ISIS and JAN have had some success in terrorizing the population in liberated areas, stoking sectarian fires, and creating a second front for those fighting for a democratic Syria. Bashar al-Assad has had some success in packaging their “work produce” into his “devil-you-know” sales kit and sent his team off to Geneva to sell all the world’s powers on how Bashar is the best thing for terrorism since sliced … From Assad Regime Working With Al-Qaeda, Time, 27 Jan 2014:
Regime representatives maintain that the biggest threat to Syria—and the region—is the growing influence of al-Qaeda-linked terror groups among the rebels. “We have to agree on a formula where all terrorist organizations should be fought by all Syrians and be expelled,” Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told the New York Times, “Those who are financing, supporting, arming and harboring terrorists should be made accountable.”
This post is for those that still think he might be right. I hope to show you that this ain’t Kansas, and it certainly ain’t Oz. and when it comes to the terrorists in Syria, Bashar al-Assad is the man standing behind the curtain.
Terrorists to the Rescue
The Islamists terror groups al Nusra and ISIS have done more in the past year to improve Assad’s future prospects than two Hezbullahs and a fist full of Iraqi Shite militia. They have terrorized Syrians in the liberated areas, they only work in the liberated areas, and they have made refugees of Syrians the regime couldn’t.
They have turned Assad’s original Big Lie, that he was fighting extremists, into the truth. They have been lumped in with the revolutionary opposition as “the rebels,” a view promoted by Assad and his deputies, and adopted by everyone looking for a reason to look the other way and let Assad get on with the grisly business of brutally putting down all opposition.
Their heinous acts fuelled the rationalization that we have no standing to do anything about the thousands of children being slaughtered because “both sides” are “committing war crimes,” “both sides” are equally bad, etc. What if it turns out that one side is committing war crimes on both sides of the conflict? Have you considered the extent to which that might be true? It is, after all, one of the oldest tricks in warfare.
Sarah Birke, The New York Review of Books, 27 Dec 2013, wrote a very compretnsive piece titled How al-Qaeda Changed the Syrian War. I shall refer to it often. She says this is how they’ve changed the conversation:
Talk to any Syrian you meet on the Syrian-Turkish border these days, and in less than five minutes the conversation is likely to turn to Da’ash—the Arabic acronym for the rebel organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS. Linked to al-Qaeda, the fearsome group has swept across northern Syria, imposing sharia law, detaining and even beheading Syrians who don’t conform to its purist vision of Islam, and waging war on rival militias. In early December, the group killed a foreign journalist, Iraqi cameraman Yasser Faisal al-Joumali, who was reporting in northern Syria. Even using the word Da’ash—seen as derogatory by the group’s members—is punishable by eighty lashes, a twenty-three-year-old wounded fighter from a rival Islamist group told me from his bed in a Syrian-run makeshift clinic in Turkey.
ISIS’s real power comes from the fear it seeks and manages to inspire. The group has shown zero tolerance for political dissent. Many Syrians I met along the border mentioned with horror ISIS’s execution of two young boys in Aleppo due to alleged heresy. The kidnappings of local activists and journalists has deterred dissent while also whipping up anti-ISIS sentiment. The group has blown up Shiite shrines, but has also shown few qualms about Sunni civilians getting killed in the process. Beheadings have become common. Father Paolo dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, and who campaigns for inter-religious tolerance, is missing, abducted by ISIS during a visit to the city of Raqqa in late July. As with dozens of others who remain in captivity,
She also described the secterian violence the ISIS brought with them when they occupied the opposition stronghold of Raqqa:
Consider the eastern city of Raqqa, which was first captured by various rebel forces in early March 2013. When I visited that month, the city was ruled by a coalition of militias, and it was possible to move around as a woman without a headscarf. I met with an Alawite nurse who worked alongside Sunni peers. And I talked to Abdullah al-Khalil, a prominent lawyer before the war, who as head of the local council continued to pay street cleaners salaries and was trying to secure enough money to keep other services going.
But within two months, ISIS was firmly in charge. The group beheaded three Alawites in the city’s central square, and established sharia courts and policing. Abdullah al-Khalil, the head councilman, was himself kidnapped by ISIS or its allies. Women have been told to cover up, smoking banned, and girls and boys segregated in school. Minorities have been hounded out of the city, and foreign journalists and aid workers are no longer welcome: dozens are currently in ISIS captivity.
Even though Assad has been unable to retake Raqqa, all the gains of the revolution have been reversed and people find themselves under a new regime worst than the old regime. In another area we are told by Sam Dagher and Maria AbioHabib in the Wall St. Journal, 14 Jan 2014:
ISIS took full control of the town of Al-Bab, east of Aleppo, from rebels on Monday, said opposition activists who fled the area.
These activists said ISIS fighters sweeping through the southern section of Al-Bab on Sunday detained military-age males and confiscated laptops and cellphones to check for links to Syrian rebel factions.
Many in Al-Bab said they fear executions by ISIS similar to those it carried out on Sunday in the neighboring province of Raqqa, which is now largely under the group’s control.
ISIS members captured and executed as many as 100 fighters from an Islamist rebel faction called Ahrar al-Sham on Sunday on the outskirts of the city of Raqqa, activists said.
From Assad’s point of view, this is all good, and it is having the desired effect as this quote from the Sarah Birke piece indicates:
A rebel fighter, a nineteen-year-old from Aleppo, said. ISIS has also changed Syrians’ view of the war. “If the choice is between ISIS and Assad, I’ll take Assad,” says a Syrian friend who enthusiastically supported the protests.
Not only is it causing many Syrians to rethink their objections to his rule, it is causing the West to re-think Assad too. Ibrahim Fayyad observed this in Your Middle East:
The rise of Islamists in Syria is changing the way Western governments look at the conflict. In the West, Syria is increasingly becoming a “security issue” rather than a “humanitarian tragedy”. This is not a simple change in terminology; neither is it a change in depicting what’s happening in Syria. It’s actually a change in policy priorities that would necessarily trigger policy changes towards the Syrian conflict.
The invasion and occupation of liberated areas by these Islamist extremists has forced open a second reactionary front for the revolution. They now must fight these Islamist extremists as well as the Assad regime. Doha Hassan, NOW, wrote about one such confrontation between the ISIS and local protesters in a 11 Nov. 2013 piece titled ISIS is the child of the regime:
Many protests were organized in response to ISIS’ bringing down the crosses atop the Our Lady of the Annunciation Church and the Martyrs’ Church. ISIS responded by shooting at these protests and arresting those taking part in them. Nawfal recounts: “I carried a cardboard on which I had drawn a cross and crescent side by side with the expression ‘State of Evil.’ A young man aged about 16 with a Tunisian accent attacked me, saying, ‘This woman is defending the houses of infidels and Christians. She is an infidel like them and should be killed.’ A car with Tunisian armed men on board then came and the men surrounded me and loaded their guns, shoving them straight in my face.”
ISIS has been especially hard on activists and journalists. Wherever they get control, their repression mirrors that of the regime. Novelist Robin Yassin-Kassab argues that ISIS is not a rebel group:
ISIL should not be considered part of the revolutionary opposition. It has fought Free Syrian Army (FSA) divisions as well as Kurdish groups; it has assassinated FSA and more moderate Islamist commanders and abducted revolutionary activists. It serves the regime’s agenda by terrifying minority groups, deterring journalists, and influencing the calculations of men like the former US ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker who wrote (from a deficit of both information and principle, and with stunning short-sightedness): “We need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad – and consider that as bad as he is, there is something worse.”
Assad’s openly brutal murderous regime is on the verge of getting the nod from the world’s powers because they fear the devil seemingly looking to replace him. That is why it is important to expose the hand of Assad inside the devil suit of al Qaeda in Syria.
Origins of the Evil Twins
Both ISIS and JAN are spin-offs of the Islamic State of Irag [ISI] which was widely known of as al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] before it anointed itself with statehood and changed its name. AQI got its start after the US toppled Saddam Hussein and it won recruits by killing US soldiers in Iraq. It was able to pretty well establish itself in Anbar province and part of the reason for that was that Anbar province has a long border with Syria and all through the war, Bashar al-Assad provided safe haven in Syria for these al Qaeda terrorists. Writing about the Iraq War in the Washington Times, Rowan Scarborough, says:
Mr. Assad allowed al Qaeda operatives to set up a “rat line” through his country and into northeastern Iraq. Hundreds of young terrorists, many recruited from North Africa, took airline flights into Damascus and joined networks ready to sneak them across the border.
[Retired Army] Gen. [John M.] Keane, recalling briefings he received in Baghdad, said the Assad regime actively promoted the flow of terrorists into Iraq.
“Syria intelligence services facilitated the movement of al Qaeda fighters from Damascus airport to the eastern border of Syria,” he said.
At Damascus airport, he said, they were easy to pick out: “Bearded. One-way ticket. Very little luggage.”
This is the kind of operational intimacy Bashar al-Assad had with al Qaeda in Iraq in the last decade. Commenting on the rapid grown of ISIS & JAN in Syria today, Brian Fishman, CTC, 26 Nov 2013, notes:
The dramatic growth of al-Qa`ida affiliates in Syria is a direct result of its preexisting networks in Iraq. These networks were built in 2004 and 2005, became nearly dominant in 2006 and 2007,
ISIS also has strong ties the Baathish party of Saddam Hussein and its military. Radwan Mortada in al Akhbar, tells us about that leadership:
The page indicates that the ISIS leadership council is 100 percent Iraqi, saying that Baghdadi[ISIS leader] would not accept any other nationality, since he does not trust anyone. The number of people in the council always changes, ranging between eight and 13 people. The leadership of the council is held by three former Iraqi army officers who served during the regime of Saddam Hussein.
They are commanded by a former Iraqi army colonel called Hajji Bakr, who joined ISIS when it was under the command of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (killed in 2010). Hajji Bakr was appointed as a consultant to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hafs al-Muhajir, after providing them with military information about combat plans and communication methods with former Baath commanders.
The Assad family history of collaborating with jihadists goes back even farther than that; back to daddy Hafez Assad. In the 1970’s and 1980’s Syria and Syrian occupied Lebanon became a safe haven for some of the most violent terror groups in the region and beyond. This is what the US State Department “1995 Patterns of Global Terrorism” had to say about Syria:
Syria provides safehaven and support for several groups that engage in international terrorism. Spokesmen for some of these groups, particularly Palestinian rejectionists, continue to claim responsibility for attacks in Israel and the occupied territories/Palestinian autonomous areas. Several radical terrorist groups maintain training camps or other facilities on Syrian territory and in Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon, such as Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC), which has its headquarters near Damascus. Syria grants basing privileges or refuge to a wide variety of groups engaged in terrorism. These include HAMAS, the PFLP-GC, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Japanese Red Army (JRA).
The full blog post : http://claysbeach.blogspot.fr/2014/02/man-behind-curtain-for-al-qaeda-in.html