The Qaida and the Syrian Regime:
Penetration, Cooperation, or Enmity?
The previous article tackled upon four of the five major explosions that have shaken Damascus since December 2011. The Syrian regime accused the Qaida linked opposition, and the opposition accused the regime of fabricating such explosions to propagate its story of the popular uprising. An unknown faction, that claims to be part of the Qaida, adopted some of these explosions on videos on youtube; however, can the Qaida be responsible for these attacks? Before venturing to answer such a question, one needs to explore the relationship, if any, between the Qaida and the Syrian regime.
The Syrian regime did not carry out any appropriate investigations to figure out who is responsible. Just five minutes after the first explosion on December 23rd 2011, the Syrian regime accused the Qaida. Nevertheless, following a bit of advice of Hosein Mortada, the media advisor to the Iranian Ambassador in Syria, the regime altered its story to accuse the opposition and the west in addition to the Qaida. One of the messages leaked from Bashar Assad’s email, which were published by the Guardian, shows the following email by Mortada: “It is not in our interest to say that Al-Qaida is behind the operation because such statements clear the US administration and the Syrian opposition of any responsibility… we have to say that the US administration, the opposition and the states which infiltrated weapons are behind the operation so that we can start the attack.” Hosein goes on even to reveal that he was contacted from Iran and Hezbollah not to mention anything of the Qaida responsibility, “I have even received contacts from Iran and Hezbollah – me being the head of many Iranian and Lebanese media channels – and they directed me not to mention that Al-Qaida was behind the operation cause it would be a blatant media and tactical mistake and futile.”
Later on, the state official news agency, SANA, fulfilled the advice when it interviewed the Lebanese MP, a member of the coalition of the Iranian satellite Hezbollah, Walid Sukariyeh,who maintained the story of the Syrian regime and added to it the Iranian one when SANAquoted him as saying, “The two terrorist attacks which targeted security branches in Damascus came in the service of the Zio-American project… The criminality which started with terrorist acts against the civilians and the military has now developed into terrorist suicide operations in al-Qaeda style.” The shocking reality emerged when SANA announced the names of the dead people; for it announced them dead again four days later with slight difference in the transliteration from Arabic into English! And for some names, it added the name of the father as shown in this article published by Local Coordination Committees in which the LCC provided the threads of the first and second death according to SANA.Undoubtedly such fabrications undermine the credibility of the Syrian regime and the credibility of all its proclamations.
WikiLeaks published an interesting cable of an interview between a U.S delegation led by Daniel Benjaminand the Syrian Vice Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad. A surprise took place in that meeting; Ali Mamlouk, Syrian General Intelligence Director (GID), showed up unexpectedly. In that meeting Mamlouk boosted of the Syrian success to penetrate the Qaida. The cable reads, “The GID Director said Syria had been more successful than the U.S. and other countries in the region in fighting terrorist groups because “we are practical and not theoretical.” He stated Syria’s success is due to its penetration of terrorist groups. “In principle, we don’t attack or kill them immediately. Instead, we embed ourselves in them and only at the opportune moment do we move.” Describing the process of planting embeds in terrorist organizations as “complex,” Mamlouk said the result had yielded been the detention of scores of terrorists, stamping out terror cells, and stopping hundreds of terrorists from entering Iraq.”Some of the penetrations Mamlouk was speaking about are: Fateh al-Islam, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, and Mahmoud Gul Agaci to mention but a few.
Fatah al-Islam was established by a Syrian agent called Shaker al-Absi. It was meant to penetrate the Palestinian camps in Lebanon. The Syrian regime used it to destabilize Lebanon after the international community forced Assad to end his occupation to Lebanon. Prof. Barry Rubin in his article The Truth about Fatah al-Islam said: “It [Fatah al-Islam] was meant to control and intimidate the Lebanese from supporting an international tribunal to investigate and punish those responsible for murdering Lebanon’s most popular politician, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, and 22 bystanders on February 14, 2005. Since all the evidence points at Syria’s leaders as the murderers, killing the investigation is their highest priority.” Prof. Barry Rubin goes on to refer also to the recurring point of pre-empting any major international event with an explosion or an accident, “The timing of this uprising came at the very moment that the UN Security Council was voting to hold the tribunal…And this is the scheme’s most clever part, blame the terrorism on your victim, Lebanon’s own government, and your enemy, the United States.”
After the Lebanese army stormed the Palestinian Naher al-Bared camp, some of its members and senior leaders vanished only to appear during the Syrian uprising. One of them, Abdel-Ghani Jawhar, appeared in Syria only to die mysteriously. It has been reported that he blew himself up while trying to plant a booby trap in Qusair area in Homs province. A month earlier, all4syria.info interviewed a person highly close to the circle of decision making in Hamas Movement in Damascus who stipulated anonymity for fear of retaliation on his family. This person says that the relationship between Fatah al-Islam and the Syrian regime is that of mutual interests and not of enmity, and that he himself witnessed security forces members’ kind treatment to Fatah al-Islam prisoners. The person adds that the Syrian authorities set free the last batch of Fatah al-Islam members (around 800) who were imprisoned in Palestine Branch of the Syrian intelligence, and most of them were trained to serve the goals of the Syrian regime.
The same website reported members of the Free Syrian Army in Al-Hosn Castle town in Homs province suspecting one Sheikh named Majed, who fought with Fatah al-Islam in Ein al-Hilweh camp in Lebanon, of being a penetration by the Syrian regime. They had doubt of the easiness he could obtain weapons, and his actions especially kidnapping some local Christians. They believed that the role of Majed is to create problems between the local Christians and the FSA members. This man, being exposed, was killed mysteriously in an orchard before the FSA members could question him.
On March 16th 2012, the Qaida affiliated as-ansar website issued a statement by Abdullah Azzam Brigades. The brigades denied any linkage to a cell discovered lately that month and accused the Hezbollah led government of such fabrications. It even threatened Hezbollah of disclosing the offers provided by Hezbollah and Syrian intelligence to attack targets in Lebanon in exchange for money and services. The statement went further to reveal one of these offers when it reads, “It is enough in this regard to mention one of these offers: it is your offer to assassinate the Durzi leader in Lebanon, Walid Jounblat, in exchange for setting free Jihadist leaders from the prisons of the Syrian regime.” It is clear that the Brigades refused to kill one of the most opponents of the Syrian regime in Lebanon in exchange for setting free some of its leaders captured due to previous “penetrations”, as Ali Mamlouk put it, but it is unknown whether any other organization accepted such offers.
Another penetration was carried out at hands of Mahmoud Gul Agaci. Following the American invasion of Iraq, Agaci, who was an Imam in Aleppo province, started training and sending fighters to Jihad in Iraq. Many of the men he sent were captured there or upon returning to Syria while he was free. On January 1st 2004, the Global Islamic Media Centre in Iraq published on its official yahoo group a message warning the jihadists of dealing with Agaci being an agent for the Syrian intelligence. It reads as, “This traitor [Mahmoud Gul Agaci] played a major role in the arresting of some Arab mujahedeen [Jihadists] who had come to Syria to go for Jihad in Iraq. They used to pay him visits, yet this enemy of Allah spared them no time and rushed to inform [the Syrian intelligence] which captured them.” The message went further to issue a death sentence on Agaci, “Therefore, we call upon our mujahedeen brethren all over Iraq in particular and our Syrian brethren in general to deal with this kafer [infidel] and slaughter him like a sheep so that he may be a lesson for all munafiqeen [hypocrites].Agaci was assassinated on September 28th 2007. The Syrian media alluded that the killer is from the Qaida, yet the Qaida did not adopt this assassination, and the Syrian investigations, if any, are by no means reliable. 
Setting free some Jihadists in exchange for services, as was offered to Abdullah Azzam Brigades, is a policy of the Syrian regime. The CIA captured in 2005 the Qaida chief Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, known also as Abu Musab al-Suri. He was extradited to his country of birth, Syria, and was held in prison for six years. Abu Musab al-Suri was the Qaida operations chief in Europe, and he was accused of planning the July 7th 2005 London bombings, wanted for Madrid train bombings in 2004, and he had also links to an attack on the Paris Metro in 1995 and suspension of having links to Mohamed Merah gunman in France 2012. In a report The Wall Street Journal said, “Mr. al-Suri was recently set free from prison in Damascus, Syria, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Turned over to Syria after his capture by the CIA in late 2005, Mr. al-Suri was released sometime in December (according to intelligence sources and jihadist websites) by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad—a move apparently intended to warn the West of the consequences for opposing his rule… His release also serves as a reminder that Mr. Assad’s continuing hold on power in Syria is a threat not only to his own people but also to the civilian populations of the West.” Had Assad is in enmity with Qaida and a Qaida affiliated group attacking him, why would Assad set free one of the top chiefs in the organization?
All these operations and “penetrations” benefitted one side, the Syrian regime. Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, himself answered the question of who stands benefit for such attacks. Prior the arrival of the Arab observers Mission, al-Muallim held a press conference in which a journalist asked him:
· Reporter: “If these delegations were attacked by armed gangs, wouldn’t it be an embarrassment to the Syrian authorities?
· al-Muallem: “It would not be an embarrassment. It would give credibility to the Syrian government. It would show that there are armed terrorist groups. Groups whose existence is admitted by none.”
The Syrian Foreign Minister admitted himself that having attacks in presence of observers would give credibility to the regime, and this shows that they are the beneficiaries.
In conclusion, the Syrian regime has an abundant history of penetrations, deception and lying. Given the absence of any concrete evidence and the absence of any appropriate investigation, all theories are probable; however, the possibility of a “penetration” or making some kind of “deal” with Mustafa Setmariam Nasaror any other jihadist group in exchange for services is outweighed. Nevertheless, one need not be distracted. The puppet is known and so is the puppeteer who is the only beneficiary from all these explosions. One must not mistake the puppet for the puppeteer because this puppeteer “Is a threat not only to his own people but also to the civilian populations of the West.”
Noor Al-Deen Al-Dimashqi