Al-Qaeda infiltrating Syrian opposition – Washington Post
The remarks by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper are the most definitive to date from a senior Obama administration official on al-Qaeda’s efforts to insert itself into the Syrian uprising.
Two bombings in Damascus in December, as well as deadly attacks on security and intelligence buildings in Aleppo last week, “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda-like attack,” Clapper said, adding that the network’s affiliate in Iraq “is extending its reach into Syria.”
But Clapper suggested that al-Qaeda has so far not sought to call attention to its presence, and that its operatives may have slipped into groups of fighters opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Qaeda extremists “have infiltrated” opposition groups that “in many cases may not be aware they are there,” Clapper said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee.
U.S. intelligence agencies have not detected an influx of fighters from neighboring countries into Syria, where opposition forces are fragmented and often feuding, with little indication that a leader will soon emerge, officials said.
So far there has been no “clarion call to outsiders coming in,” said Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. “We haven’t seen much of that up to this time, so basically the team that’s on the ground is playing with what it has.”
Burgess’s comments came just days after al-Qaeda leader Aymen al-Zawahiri released a video message urging fighters in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to mobilize against Assad.
Al-Qaeda has largely been relegated to the sidelines in a series of uprisings across the Arab world over the past year, and its affiliate in Iraq has struggled to regroup after being hunted to near extinction by Shiite militias aligned with the American military “surge.”
U.S. officials for several weeks have been saying that the bombings in Syria bore certain characteristics of previous al-Qaeda operations, but that no definitive evidence had surfaced to establish that link.
Clapper seemed to go a step farther, describing al-Qaeda’s presence among militant groups as “another disturbing phenomenon that we’ve seen.”
Source: Washington Post
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, has called on Muslims around the world to support rebels in Syria who are seeking to overthrow Bashar al-Assad.
The statement is the most explicit attempt yet by the terrorist group to intervene in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
In the eight-minute video titled Onwards, Lions of Syria, posted on extremist websites on Saturday, Zawahiri calls on Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against Assad’s “pernicious, cancerous regime”, and warned Syrian rebels not to rely on the west for help.
“Wounded Syria still bleeds day after day while the butcher, son of the butcher Bashar bin Hafiz [Hafez al-Assad], is not deterred to stop,” Zawahiri said. “But the resistance of our people in Syria despite all the pain, sacrifice and bloodshed escalates and grows.”
Al-Qaida, seriously weakened by the loss of its leader Osama bin Laden last year, has played no significant role in the ongoing unrest associated with the Arab spring. However, the group has made persistent attempts to indirectly influence those opposing autocratic regimes across the Middle East, and to intervene directly. Late last year senior militants linked to the group travelled from Afghanistan to Libya in an effort to boost recruitment in the chaotic aftermath of the fall of Muammar Gaddafi.
The Assad regime has repeatedly said Islamic militants are behind the violence in Syria, a claim rejected by opposition groups who say it is designed to discredit them in the eyes of the international community.
At the weekend, US newspapers cited American officials blaming al-Qaida in Iraq, a largely autonomous affiliate of the main group, for two recent bombings in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and a suicide attack in Aleppo on Friday that killed at least 28 people.
Zawahiri said: “If we want freedom, we must be liberated from this regime. If we want justice, we must retaliate against this regime. Continue your revolt and anger, don’t accept anything else apart from independent, respectful governments.”
In July, Zawahiri urged Syrian protesters to direct their movement also against Washington and Israel, denouncing the US as insincere in showing solidarity with them.
This month another video featuring Zawahiri appeared on Islamist forums, announcing that the Somali militant group al-Shabaab was joining its ranks, in an apparent attempt to boost morale and sharpen the threat to western targets.
Al-Qaida leader Zawahri praises Free Syrian Army (Opposition Militants)
Twin Bombing in Damascus, Syria on 23 December 2011
At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 injured in two suicide car bombings in Syria’s capital, Damascus, officials say. State TV said suspected al-Qaeda militants had targeted a General Security Directorate base and another security agency in the Kafr Sousa area.
Analysis: Russia Today
Analysis: Press TV
Robert Fisk: From Washington this looks like Syria’s ‘Benghazi moment’. But not from here
Look east and what does Bashar see? Iran standing with him and Iraq refusing to impose sanctions
President Bashar al-Assad is not about to go. Not yet. Not, maybe, for quite a long time. Newspapers in the Middle East are filled with stories about whether or not this is Assad’s “Benghazi moment” – these reports are almost invariably written from Washington or London or Paris – but few in the region understand how we Westerners can get it so wrong. The old saw has to be repeated and repeated: Egypt was not Tunisia; Bahrain was not Egypt; Yemen was not Bahrain; Libya was not Yemen. And Syria is very definitely not Libya.
It’s not difficult to see how the opposite plays in the West. The barrage of horrifying Facebook images from Homs, and statements from the “Free Syrian Army”, and the huffing of La Clinton and the amazement that Russia can be so blind to the suffering of Syrians – as if America was anything but blind to the suffering of Palestinians when, say, more than 1,300 were killed in Israel’s onslaught on Gaza – doesn’t gel with reality on the ground. Why should the Russians care about Homs? Did they care about the dead of Chechnya?
Look at it the other way round. Yes, we all know that Syria’s intelligence service has committed human rights abuses. They did that in Lebanon. Yes, we all know this is a regime in Damascus, not an elected government. Yes, we all know about corruption. Yes, we watched the UN’s humiliation at the weekend – although why La Clinton should expect the Russians to click their heels after the “no-fly zone” in Libya turned into “regime change” is a bit of a mystery.
The destruction of the Alawite-led government in Syria – which means in effect, a Shia regime – will be a sword in the soul of Shia Iran. And look at the Middle East now from the windows of the massive presidential palace that overlooks the old city of Damascus. True, the Gulf has turned against Syria. True, Turkey has turned against Syria (while generously offering Bashar exile in the old Ottoman empire).
But look east, and what does Bashar see? Loyal Iran standing with him. Loyal Iraq – Iran’s new best friend in the Arab world – refusing to impose sanctions. And to the west, loyal little Lebanon refusing to impose sanctions. Thus from the border of Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, Assad has a straight line of alliances which should prevent, at least, his economic collapse.
The trouble is that the West has been so deluged with stories and lectures and think-tank nonsense about the ghastly Iran and the unfaithful Iraq and the vicious Syria and the frightened Lebanon that it is almost impossible to snap off these delusional pictures and realise that Assad is not alone. That is not to praise Assad or to support his continuation. But it’s real.
The Turks, after much Clinton-style huffing and puffing, did not follow through on their “cordon sanitaire” in northern Syria. Nor did King Abdullah II follow through on the Syrian opposition’s call for a Jordanian “cordon sanitaire” in the south. Oddly, I repeat yet again, only Israel has remained silent.
As long as Syria can trade with Iraq, it can trade with Iran and, of course, it can trade with Lebanon. The Shia of Iran and the Shia majority in Iraq and the Shia leadership (though not majority) in Syria and the Shia (the largest community, but not a majority) in Lebanon will be on Assad’s side, however reluctantly. That, I’m afraid, is the way the cookie crumbles. Crazed Gaddafi had real enemies with firepower and Nato. Assad’s enemies have Kalashnikovs and no Nato.
Assad has Damascus and Aleppo, and those cities matter. His principal military units have not defected to the opposition.
The “good guys” also contain “bad guys” – a fact we forgot in Libya, even when the “good guys” murdered their defected army commander and tortured prisoners to death. Oh yes, and the Royal Navy was able to put into Benghazi. It cannot put into Tartous because the Russian Navy is still there.
Syria’s crisis is leading us to unlikely bedfellows
David Cameron and William Hague are at risk of over-simplifying a dangerous and complex situation.
Protesters in Egypt chant slogans calling for the expulsion of the Syrian ambassador Photo: AFP/GETTY
By Peter Oborne9:00PM GMT 18 Feb 201217 Comments
When two car bombings killed nearly 50 people in the heart of the Syrian capital of Damascus just before Christmas, we in the West were quick to challenge claims made on state TV that the atrocities had been carried out by al-Qaeda. We were inclined to award more credibility to the Syrian rebels, who denied that the terror group was involved at all, and insisted that the attacks had been cynically staged by the government, perhaps as a bid for international sympathy.
However, all doubt ended last week when James Clapper, director of US national intelligence, informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Damascus bombings “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda attack”. Mr Clapper added that “we believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria”. So, it’s official. Al-Qaeda is acknowledged as an ally of Britain and America in our desire to overturn the Syrian government.
Think about it. Ten years ago, in the wake of the destruction of the Twin Towers, we invaded Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda. Now the world’s most notorious terror organisation wants to join a new “coalition of the willing” in Syria (not just al-Qaeda: yesterday the Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir staged a march through west London in support of their Syrian brothers and the establishment of the Khilafah state).
This may be the most profound turnaround in global politics since the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 converted Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany from bitter enemies into allies – and it is important to understand that the affinity of interests between al-Qaeda and the West extends far beyond Syria. Britain, the United States and al-Qaeda also have a deep, structural hostility to President Assad’s biggest sponsor, Iran.
Like al-Qaeda, we are interested in undermining Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in the Lebanon. In Libya, David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy threw their weight behind the destruction of Gaddafi’s government and its replacement by a new regime which reportedly embraces al-Qaeda-connected figures. We and the terror group have come to share the same hostility to the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, and for very much the same reason: we both agree that he takes his orders from Tehran.
Iran claims its navy has entered Mediterranean 18 Feb 2012
A new terror threatens Syria 13 Feb 2012
Iran strengthening ties with al–Qaeda 16 Feb 2012
Of course, it remains the case that we have different methods and contrasting ideals. But we share unnervingly similar short-term objectives. Although it is unlikely that Britain and America have significant direct dealings with al-Qaeda, it may be that some of our allies do.
Let’s consider for a moment one of the most glaring hypocrisies of American foreign policy: the differential treatment between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Washington never ceases to complain about the connection between the Pakistani intelligence services and the Taliban. But we never hear a whisper of concerns about the connection between Saudi intelligence and Salafi movements across the Middle East, of which al-Qaeda is the best known offshoot.
For months, the region has been alive with rumours that al-Qaeda and other Sunni fighters have been sneaking into Syria through Lebanon and Turkey. Many of these extremist Sunni infiltrators fought with al-Qaeda in Iraq before being driven out and taking refuge in the Lebanon. It is likely that they are backed with money and arms by Saudi interests, and inconceivable that they could act without the knowledge, and perhaps the assistance, of Saudi intelligence.
So what has brought al-Qaeda in from the cold? The answer lies in the Arab Spring. Certainly the revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere started out as popular uprisings; many of the rebels in Syria continue to fight, and often die, for human rights and democracy. But, as time has gone by, other agendas are coming into play, and other interests have sought to assert themselves. The statecraft of Saudi Arabia demonstrates how complex the situation has become. The gerontocracy which governs that desert kingdom will never countenance internal opposition. Indeed, Saudi troops marched into Bahrain to suppress the democracy movement there. On the other hand, the Saudis backed the Libyan rebels and are reportedly active in the destabilisation of President Assad.
This deeply reactionary monarchy remains Britain and America’s closest ally in the Middle East. As the Arab Spring has unfolded, we have encouraged the Saudis to develop a makeshift alliance that embraces Qatar, Jordan, the Israelis, al-Qaeda and, it would seem, elements of the Muslim Brotherhood, who have very strong historical reasons for wishing to dislodge the Assad regime, in the light of its brutal crushing of the Brotherhood-inspired revolt in Hama 30 years ago. All members of this alliance would agree that they want the Shiite-Allawi regime in Syria to be replaced by some form of majority Sunni rule. Britain and America hope this would be democratic; doubtless al-Qaeda and its Saudi allies have something else in mind. Ranged on the other side are Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and Iraq’s al-Maliki government. In Iraq, many of the Awakening Councils (the militia set up by the US six years ago to defeat al-Qaeda) now feel betrayed and are said to have joined forces again with their Sunni brethren.
The situation could hardly be more dangerous or more complex. Yet, in recent public pronouncements David Cameron has repeatedly spoken of the conflict in Syria as a struggle between an illegal and autocratic regime at war with what he likes to call “the people”. Either he is poorly briefed, or he is coming dangerously close to a calculated deception of the British public. For the situation is far more complicated than he has admitted. It is far from obvious, for example, even that a majority of Syrians are opposed to the Assad regime. Russia calculates that perhaps two thirds of Syrians are still broadly supportive, and it is worth recalling that Russia was a more accurate source of information in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq than either Britain or the US.
Foreign policy is perhaps the area where David Cameron’s Government has copied New Labour most closely. Mr Cameron shares much of Tony Blair’s slavish adherence to American foreign policy aims, especially in the Middle East. Like Mr Blair, he wilfully simplifies intractable foreign policy decisions and has shown a fondness for overseas adventures. In Syria, British rhetoric may raise expectations among the opposition which we can never satisfy.
Meanwhile, in Libya there are menacing signs that last year’s Anglo-French intervention is starting to go wrong. The toppling of the Gaddafi regime has not brought an end to the killing. If anything, the fighting appears to be getting worse, as the country breaks into hostile armed fractions – a fertile hunting ground for al-Qaeda, our latest collaborator in the war on terror. I hope that the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary, William Hague, know what they are doing as they allow Britain to be dragged closer towards further intervention in the Middle East. But judging from their public remarks they may be playing a game whose rules they do not fully understand.
Russian Envoy Slams UN General Assembly’s Syria Resolution
Topic: Protests in Syria
© REUTERS/ Allison Joyce
UNITED NATIONS, February 17 (RIA Novosti)
Tags: UN General Assembly, Vitaly Churkin, Syria
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UN Resolution on Syria ‘Too Hasty’ – Russia
U.S. ‘Disgusted’ by Russia, China Double Veto on Syria Resolution
Russia believes the UN General Assembly’s resolution on Syria is an attempt to impose a form of political settlement on the country, Russia’s envoy to the UN Vitaly Churkin said on Thursday.
The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a non-binding resolution condemning Syria’s authorities for human rights violations and calling on President Bashar al-Assad to step down. In the 193-member Assembly, 137 countries voted for the resolution and 12 against with 17 abstentions.
Russia and China voted against the resolution, which was similar to one the two countries vetoed on February 4 in the UN Security Council triggering angry reaction from the West. Belarus, Zimbabwe, Cuba, North Korea, Iran and a few other states also said “no” to the draft on Thursday.
Churkin said after the vote the draft resolution was “unbalanced” and reflected “the tendencies that cause our concerns: attempts to isolate the Syrian leadership, reject any contacts with it and impose a political settlement formula from outside.”
The Russian envoy also said Russia had voted against because its amendments to the draft resolution had not been adopted.
In particular, he said, Russia proposed including in the resolution a call on “all opposition forces in Syria to distance themselves from violent armed groups” and on those groups to “stop attacking residential neighborhoods and government institutions,” as well as a call on government troops to leave cities and towns.
When the amendments were not considered, Churkin said, Russia had no other choice than to vote against the draft.
Syria on Sunday rejected an Arab League resolution calling for a joint UN-Arab peacekeeping force in the country as well as tightening economic sanctions on Damascus. The resolution came a week after Russia and China blocked a UN Security Council resolution on Syria to prevent the repetition of “the Libyan scenario.”
In Libya, rebels ousted and killed long-standing dictator Muammar Gaddafi in October 2011 after a months-long military standoff in which they received assistance from NATO forces.
The Arab League has been at the forefront of regional efforts to end violence in Syria. The group put forward a plan that Assad agreed to in December and then sent monitors to Syria. The League withdrew its monitoring mission from Syria in January because the regime failed to end the bloodshed.
At least 5,400 people have been killed in the Syrian government’s 11-month crackdown on protesters, according to the UN. Syrian authorities blame the violence on armed gangs affiliated with al-Qaeda and say more than 2,000 soldiers and police have been killed.
The European Parliament on Thursday adopted a resolution strongly urging Russia to immediately stop selling arms and military equipment to Damascus. The resolution called on Russia to join the international consensus and enable the UN Security Council to help resolve the country’s months-long conflict.
The Parliament stressed that as a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia needs to take its responsibility for international peace and security seriously.
Syria, the largest importer of Russian weapons in the Middle East, recently signed contracts for the supply of 24 MiG-29M/M2 fighter jets and eight Buk-M2E air-defense systems. A contract for the supply of Bastion anti-ship missile systems armed with SS-N-26 Yakhont supersonic cruise missiles is currently being implemented.
In early February, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia’s arms supplies to Syria would not affect the balance of power in the Middle East.
FEBRUARY 17-19, 2012
Hypocrisy and Syria
by ALEXANDER COCKBURN
Few spectacles have been more surreal than senior US officials – starting with the President, the Secretary of State and the US ambassador to the UN – solemnly lecturing Assad and his beleaguered Syrian government on the need to accommodate rebel forces whose GCC sponsors are intent on slaughtering the ruling Alawite minority or driving them into the sea.
At one grimly hilarious moment last Friday, these worthy sermons were buttressed by a message from Ayman al-Zwahiri, the head of al-Qaeda, therefore presumably the number one target on President Obama’s hit list, similarly praising the ‘Lions of Syria’ for rising up against the Assad regime. Al-Qaeda and the White House in sync!
The last time the United States faced serious internal dissent was in the 1960s and early 1970s, from war resisters and black and Native American movements. The government responded instantly with a methodical program of violent repression, including a well-documented agenda of assassination.
In 1993, the first year of the Clinton administration, federal agents launched an armed assault on a religious group in a compound outside Waco, Texas. The Feds deemed the compound and the Branch Davidians therein, headed by David Koresh, an affront to their authority. After seven weeks, Attorney General Janet Reno concluded that negotiation with the besieged Christian fundamentalists was useless and ordered an assault. Seventy-six Branch Davidians were burned alive. Autopsies showed that five children were among those shot to death by federal agents. The outcome was widely endorsed by the national press and Attorney General Reno commended for her resolve.
No one could doubt that determined separatist activity or armed challenges to the government of the United States are always met with immediate, overwhelming and lethal ferocity. For further historical illustration I recommend an interview with any moderately informed American Indian or black.
For a while it looked as though Obama’s government was being swept into yet another intervention, ranging itself shoulder-to-shoulder with the GCC coalition, headed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, stoking the fires in Syria. That momentum was certainly checked by the Russian and Chinese veto of the US-backed resolution presented to the UN Security Council.
Maybe it’s fanciful, but perhaps enthusiasm for underwriting the destruction of the Syrian state was somewhat undermined by the late Anthony Shadid’s excellent report from Libya in the New York Times of February 9. Shadid (struck down by an asthma attack at the end of last week on the Syrian-Turkish border) described a dismembered country, rent by banditry, torture and summary executions.
Civil war in Syria would be of a brutality and level of bloodshed far beyond what is transpiring in Libya – as veterans of Lebanon’s civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990, or of the sectarian bloodletting in Iraq in 2006-07, can attest.
There is no doubt that Assad’s police state is corrupt and brutal. There is every reason to press Assad towards reform. But it has become plain that negotiated reform is not on the agenda of the rebels. To the contrary, the bombs that killed 28 and wounded 235 in Aleppo, no doubt set by Sunni suicide bombers, probably operating through al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, were intended to elicit government repression, not to encourage negotiation.
The performance of the western press has been almost uniformly disgraceful. In the wake of the Aleppo atrocities, network journalists blandly quoted spokesmen for the Syrian rebels that the Syrian security forces had blown themselves up to discredit the rebels.
Aisling Byrne of Conflicts Forum recently described in considerable detail the propaganda machine that has provided a non-stop flow of mendacious bulletins eagerly seized upon by the western press.
As Byrne reported, “Of the three main sources for all data on numbers of protesters killed and numbers of people attending demonstrations – the pillars of the narrative – all are part of the ‘regime change’ alliance. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, in particular, is reportedly funded through a Dubai-based fund with pooled (and therefore deniable) Western-Gulf money (Saudi Arabia alone has, according to Elliot Abrams allocated US$130 billion to ‘palliate the masses’ of the Arab Spring). What appears to be a nondescript British-based organization, the Observatory has been pivotal in sustaining the narrative of the mass killing of thousands of peaceful protesters using inflated figures, ‘facts’, and often exaggerated claims of ‘massacres’ and even recently ‘genocide’.”
But will the US really mount a covert supply effort to the Syrian rebels? The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, may use the undiplomatic word “disgusting” to describe the Russian and Chinese vetoes, but perhaps these vetoes came as something of a relief, getting the US off the hook, in terms of action rather than rhetoric. An article in The Washington Post of 11 February was headlined: “As carnage builds, US sees ‘no good options’ on Syria”. In the story, the reporter wrote that the US government has “no appetite for a military intervention”.
Does Israel really crave Assad’s fall, a prolonged period of anarchy and the probable emergence of a Sunni regime eager to confront Israel? All in all, Syria under the Assad dynasty has been a relatively good neighbor. Turkey has its own Kurdish problems which Syria could exacerbate if it wanted to. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia was careful to tell the New York Times that “international intervention had to be ruled out”.
Assad has been written off many times in recent months. Israel’s Ehud Barak said a while ago he would be gone in weeks. In December the US State Department described Assad as “a dead man walking”. But Syria is not Libya. Assad commands an army that has remained loyal. Large numbers of Syrians gaze into the abyss and decide that, all things considered, they don’t want to follow the fate of Lebanon, Iraq or of Libya. The obits for Assad’s regime have been premature. He could be with us for a while yet and it seems that behind the thunderous rhetoric the US government may be accommodating to that fact. On the other hand, Peter Lee in his excellent, very well informed report on this site this weekend, remarks, “My take on the situation is that the United States is willing to let the GCC chew up Syria as a consolation prize for not going all out on regime change against Iran.”