Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in Syria have begun an offensive against former allies, wrestling moderate FSA rebels out of the controlled areas. With the US assault on Syria postponed, radical Islamists are seeking ultimate authority to fight Assad.
The latest news coming from the north of Syria suggests that a series of clashes between the former allies have already left a number of casualties and a change of the operational situation in the Syrian civil war.
The FSA leaders have recently acknowledged that clashes between their brigades and Islamist rivals haves reached boiling point.
Last weekend, the very same day Russia’s FM Sergey Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry hammered out an agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament, the clashes between FSA associates and the most notorious jihadist groups operating in Syria, the al-Nusra front and the ISIL, were reported by the Daily Beast.
Islamists attacked first, by blowing up the brother of a commander of the Allahu Akbar Brigades, a local FSA group. In retaliation the group launched a counter offensive, killing four jihadists.
On Wednesday militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized the town of Azaz controlled by the anti-Assad Storm of the North Brigade, affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, some five kilometers from the Syrian-Turkish border. Five FSA fighters reportedly died in clashes, with over 100 people taken hostage.
“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has seized complete control of Azaz. They are in control of the town’s entrances,” Abu Ahmad, an activist inside Azaz, told the AFP news agency.
The shootout in Azaz began after ISIL gunmen attempted to detain a German doctor who has been working as a volunteer at a private hospital in Azaz, accusing him of taking photos of their positions. The doctor managed to escape and is safe now, Rami Abdul-Rahman told the Associated Press, the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. But as a result of the clashes FSA’s Northern Storm Brigade has had to withdraw from Azaz.
The ultimate goal of the jihadists must be a crossing at Bab Al Salama on the Syrian-Turkish border, currently controlled by the FSA. The Bab Al Salama is one of the few still operable crossings used by the Syrian opposition to deliver weapons, fighters and humanitarian aid from neighboring Turkey.
Local activist Abu Louay al-Halabi told Al Jazeera that “By taking Azaz, the Islamic State is a step closer to controlling the crossing. Its objective seems to be taking over the whole countryside north of Aleppo.”
In yet another shootout, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group clashed with FSA’s Rasoul group rebels and drove them out of the town of Raqqah in Syria’s north last Wednesday, reported Lebanon’s Daily Start last week. In this town that fell out of Assad’s control last March, the jihadists stick to the same modus operandi – they detonated a car bomb killing two FSA commanders.
After a fierce fight at Rasoul group headquarters, the FSA militants had to withdraw to Turkish territory.
Islamic extremists launch their own war
While last weekend Russia and the United States reached a deal on a framework that will see the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid- 2014, Islamic extremists in Syria made it clear they are not interested in soothing the conflict.
In fact, extremists have taken the Lavrov-Kerry deal to strip Damascus of chemical weapons as a clear signal to act.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri announced that Islamist militants must avoid any alliances with other rebel forces supported by the west and the Gulf Arab states.
“I warn my brothers and people in Syria of unity and jihad and against coming close to any of these groups,” said Zawahri as quoted by Reuters.
The news came as no surprise, particularly after the publication last week of the defense consultancy IHS Jane’s report about almost half of the rebel forces fighting against the Syrian government being either hardline Islamists or open jihadists with strong Al-Qaeda links.
Already in July it had become obvious that there was a coolness between most active jihadists and FSA fighters, when a senior figure of the rebel Free Syrian Army was executed by Al-Qaeda-linked militants during negotiations.
Since the CIA and US special operational troop’s instructors have been coaching Syrian rebels at bases in Jordan and Turkey since November 2012, it is an open question which sides the graduates of such courses have taken by now.
IHS Jane’s report insists there are 100,000 fighters opposing President Bashar Assad’s forces at the moment, of which no less than 45,000 are Islamic extremists that are actually the spearhead of the anti-Assad forces.
Total jihad approaching
While the Pentagon continues to insist its plans include equipping and training only “moderate” Syrian rebel forces, the CIA reportedly has got an official blessing to monitor the arming of the Syrian rebels.
The mantra about arming only moderate rebels has been sounding for months now, but since Islamist fighters have now finally become the backbone of the rebel’s forces, it raises the question about the final beneficiary of the US’s reported $400 million aid to the Syrian rebels.
The sudden acts of aggression of jihadists in Syria, attacking relatively moderate FSA fighters, are strangely coinciding with Russia conducting negotiations with both sides of the Syrian conflict in order to bring the warring parties behind to the negotiation table.
Al-Qaeda associates might really succeed in squeezing FSA moderates out of Syria which would automatically put Russia in an awkward position of conducting useless negotiations, with a Syrian opposition swiftly losing its remaining political clout. But that would also mean that the US could only supply weapons directly to Al-Qaeda jihadists as the only remaining force capable of opposing President Bashar Assad.
In that case Moscow would be left with only one imperative: to support the legitimate government of democratically elected President Bashar Assad in order to prevent the Middle East from sliding into the uncontrollable chaos of total jihad.
In turn, if Washington really wants to topple President Assad, it would have to make a choice between either officially declaring its support for Al-Qaeda and its global expansion agenda, or joining Moscow and battle Islamic extremists in the Middle East.
[French govt. awakens to the dangers of returning Islamists, because of the Imperial games it has been playing. When these wild-eyed radicals come marching home as veterans of a vicious war, they will have acquired a wide array of new criminal skills. They will be like "yeast" in breadmaking when they start teaching city gangs how to construct IEDs (improvised explosive devices), or spread their skills and criminal ideology to their criminal friends back home. If you only worry about 300 veterans returning, then you should multiply that danger factor by ten or one hundred, considering how rapidly the disease of terrorism will spread among the disgruntled masses. These guys should have known that playing with "Islamist" crazies is like playing with nitroglycerin, its something that sane people just don't do. This danger, as well as the greater danger of disaster on a grand scale in the Syrian refugee camps, should have been easily anticipated problems, which would obviously arise from the Imperial strategy.]
PARIS (AFP) – France’s interior minister revealed Thursday that hundreds of homegrown Islamist militants were signing up to fight in Syria and warned they could pose a security threat when they come back.
More than 300 French nationals or residents are either currently fighting in Syria’s civil war, planning to go and fight or have recently returned from there, the minister, Manuel Valls, told France Inter radio.
Most of them were young men, often with a delinquent past, who had become radicalised, he said.
“This is a phenomenon which worries me because they represent a potential danger when they return to our soil,” Valls said. “We have to be extremely attentive.”
France, which has the largest Muslim population in western Europe, has increased its monitoring of Islamic radicals since Al-Qaeda-inspired gunman Mohamed Merah killed seven people in and around the southwestern city of Toulouse last year.
It subsequently emerged that Merah had spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan and that French intelligence had been aware of his contacts with militants in those two countries.
On Tuesday, intelligence officers arrested the French webmaster of a jihadist site on charges of “provoking” terrorism, Paris prosecutors said, adding that the 26-year-old convert to Islam had also played a part in translating magazines published by militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
According to British defence consultancy IHS Jane’s, there are up to 10,000 jihadists from all over the world currently fighting in Syria on the side of rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, whose regime they want to replace with an Islamic state.
Experts in counter-terrorism fear that a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21 could inspire more radicals to embark on jihad, or holy war, in Syria, increasing the numbers of a new generation of battle-hardened militants capable of wreaking havoc when they return to their home countries.
“If they are not able to set up an Islamic state in Syria, they’ll come back disappointed,” Marc Trevidic, France’s top anti-terrorism judge, was quoted as saying earlier this week.
At least one French national has died fighting in Syria — a 22-year-old white convert to Islam from Toulouse only identified as Jean-Daniel, who was killed in a clash with government forces in August.
Valls has previously warned that there are “several dozen, perhaps several hundred, potential Merahs in our country” and described their presence as a ticking time bomb.
In October 2012, police shot dead the alleged ringleader of an Islamist cell suspected of carrying out a grenade attack on a Jewish grocery store in a Paris suburb the previous month.
A prosecutor branded that homegrown group of Islamist extremists as the biggest terror threat the country had faced since the Algerian-based GIA carried out a string of deadly bombings in the 1990s.
Islamist groups threatened to stage attacks in France as well as on French targets after Paris intervened in Mali early this year in reaction to advances made by Islamist groups who had seized control of the north of the country.
Citing intelligence reports, Valls said there were more than 130 French nationals or residents currently fighting in Syria, about 50 who had returned home, some 40 who were in transit areas and around a 100 who were likely to travel to Syria.
[When America's war against the rest of the human race finally comes to an end, our war crimes and crimes will be easily proved by circumstantial evidence such as this. It is NOT A COINCIDENCE, that every major terrorist fighting unit that has been encountered over the duration of the American terror war has been led by graduates of the American brain-raping program at Guantanamo. This is even true for the Afghan Taliban. These guys, like this Moroccan fellow, Mohammed al Alami, a.k.a., "Abu Hamza al-Maghrebi," were released onto their home turfs, back around 2006, in order to spearhead the American "jihad" in their homelands.]
Photo of the deceased Abu Hamza al-Maghrebi.
(Reuters) – A former prisoner at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. naval base died fighting for anti-government rebels in Syria, according to an Islamist opposition group which posted a video of his funeral on YouTube.
Moroccan-born Mohammed al Alami, who was released in 2006, is the first former Guantanamo detainee to die in battle in the Syrian civil war, analysts say.
The video, first reported by The Miami Herald, was posted by Harakat Sham al-Islam, one of the Islamist brigades fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It showed the August 5 funeral in which Alami is praised by a rebel leader for enduring “the prison of the Americans in Guantanamo for five years … where he did not reform or change.”
U.S. Defense Department officials had no comment.
Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who monitors jihadi activities at the website Jihadology.net, said the video appeared to confirm rumors that had been circulating for several weeks about a former Guantanamo prisoner being killed in Syria.
“The sources seem to be legitimate,” he said, adding that the video was posted on a known jihadi website.
Alami fought in Afghanistan and was captured in Pakistan after the September 11 attacks.
He was sent to the U.S. detention facility in Cuba on February 2, 2002 “because of his knowledge of Taliban recruitment, training and tactics as well as his possible affiliation with Al-Qaida,” according to Pentagon records made public by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
He was repatriated to Morocco on February 7, 2006, the records show.
After being imprisoned in Morocco for an unknown period of time, he was released and made his way to Syria, said Zelin.
Alami’s death was likely to feed concerns about the risks of releasing detainees from Guantanamo, even though many have not been formerly charged.
“It has implications for the debate about what the United States does with the individuals still in Guantanamo and what might happen if they return home, or are released,” said Zelin.
There are a number of rebel brigades made up entirely of non-Syrians, the United Nations says, underlining how the 2-1/2-year-old conflict has pulled in neighboring countries and widened sectarian fault lines across the region.
The growing involvement of foreign, Islamist fighters has added to Western reluctance to step in or arm the rebels. Reuters correspondents have met British, Libya and Tunisian militants in Syria who say they fight against Assad.
Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah militia has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
“Former Guantanamo detainees are held in very high light,” said Zelin. “They were imprisoned by Americans and they still kept faith in God and the cause of Jihad. They are viewed as heroes.”
Last month the U.S. repatriated two Guantanamo detainees to Algeria as part of its ongoing effort to close the prison.
So far, the U.S. has released 606 detainees. There are currently 164 prisoners at Guantanamo, including 84 cleared for release years ago.
Obama promised to do away with the facility during his 2008 presidential campaign, citing its damage to the U.S. reputation around the world, but Congress put tough restrictions on detainee transfers in January 2011.
A second Moroccan ex-Guantanamo detainee, Ibrahim bin Shakaran, the leader of Harakat Sham al-Islam, is seen in the video giving the funeral eulogy for Alami. He was described as an al-Qaeda recruiter in Iraq, according to a 2008 Defense Intelligence Agency list of 37 Guantanamo detainees “confirmed or suspected” of having returned to terrorism.
The number of former Guantanamo recidivists was estimated by the DIA in 2008 to be “about 7 percent of those transferred from U.S. custody.”
Alami, was the second known former Guantanamo detainee to be killed this year, Zelin added. A Saudi second-in-command of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was killed in a U.S. drone attack in Yemen in July.
Said al-Shehri was described by U.S. officials as one of the most important al Qaeda-linked militants to be released from Guantanamo, where he was taken in January 2002 after Pakistan handed him to U.S. authorities.
(Writing by David Adams. Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Jane Sutton in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; editing by Jackie Frank)
Horrific footage shows Syrian helicopter pilot who was ‘shot down by Turkish forces and then beheaded by rebels’
- Footage apparently shows helicopter pilot shot down by Turkish forces
- Body can be seen with head removed and surrounded by a group of men
- Videos also show ‘rebels shooting at pilot’ as he parachutes from craft
- Turkey confirmed yesterday it did shoot down Syrian helicopter
A Syrian helicopter pilot who was shot down by the Turkish military was beheaded by rebels, it was claimed today.
Horrific footage which purports to show a man’s headless corpse dressed in military-style helicopter flight suit and dumped in a ditch has been circulating online since last night, just a few hours after the aircraft crashed.
The film also zooms in on a bloody head lying a few yards from the corpse.
WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT
It has been impossible to establish if the disturbing images do indeed show the chopper pilot or if it is rebel propaganda.
According to website Weasel Zippers, the pilot was beheaded by Syrian rebels after the helicopter was shot down by Turkish warplanes.
The video, which has been released on LiveLeak, shows one of the men searching through the pilot’s pockets.
Cable reference id: #06DAMASCUS5399
|Origin||Embassy Damascus (Syria)|
|Cable time||Wed, 13 Dec 2006 16:03 UTC|
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 DAMASCUS 005399 SIPDIS SIPDIS NEA/ELA NSC FOR MARCHESE TREASURY FOR GLASER/LEBENSON E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/30/2016 TAGS: PGOV [Internal Governmental Affairs], PREL [External Political Relations], PTER [Terrorists and Terrorism], SY [Syria] SUBJECT: INFLUENCING THE SARG IN THE END OF 2006 Classified By: CDA William Roebuck, for reasons 1.5 b/d ¶1. (S) Summary. The SARG ends 2006 in a much stronger position domestically and internationally than it did 2005. While there may be additional bilateral or multilateral pressure that can impact Syria, the regime is based on a small clique that is largely immune to such pressure. However, Bashar Asad’s growing self-confidence )- and reliance on this small clique — could lead him to make mistakes and ill-judged policy decisions through trademark emotional reactions to challenges, providing us with new opportunities. For example, Bashar,s reaction to the prospect of Hariri tribunal and to publicity for Khaddam and the National Salvation Front borders on the irrational. Additionally, Bashar,s reported preoccupation with his image and how he is perceived internationally is a potential liability in his decision making process. We believe Bashar,s weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as a the conflict between economic reform steps (however limited) and entrenched, corrupt forces, the Kurdish question, and the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising. These proposals will need to be fleshed out and converted into real actions and we need to be ready to move quickly to take advantage of such opportunities. Many of our suggestions underline using Public Diplomacy and more indirect means to send messages that influence the inner circle. End Summary. ¶2. (S) As the end of 2006 approaches, Bashar appears in some ways stronger than he has in two years. The country is economically stable (at least for the short term), internal opposition the regime faces is weak and intimidated, and regional issues seem to be going Syria,s way, from Damascus, perspective. Nonetheless, there are some long-standing vulnerabilities and looming issues that may provide opportunities to up the pressure on Bashar and his inner circle. Regime decision-making is limited to Bashar and an inner circle that often produces poorly thought-out tactical decisions and sometimes emotional approaches, such as Bashar,s universally derided August 15 speech. Some of these vulnerabilities, such as the regime,s near-irrational views on Lebanon, can be exploited to put pressure on the regime. Actions that cause Bashar to lose balance and increase his insecurity are in our interest because his inexperience and his regime,s extremely small decision-making circle make him prone to diplomatic stumbles that can weaken him domestically and regionally. While the consequences of his mistakes are hard to predict and the benefits may vary, if we are prepared to move quickly to take advantage of the opportunities that may open up, we may directly impact regime behavior where it matters–Bashar and his inner circle. ¶3. (S) The following provides our summary of potential vulnerabilities and possible means to exploit them: — Vulnerability: — THE HARIRI INVESTIGATION AND THE TRIBUNAL: The Hariri investigation ) and the prospect of a Lebanon Tribunal — has provoked powerful SARG reactions, primarily because of the embarrassment the investigation causes. Rationally, the regime should calculate that it can deal with any summons of Syrian officials by refusing to turn any suspects over, or, in extreme cases by engineering “suicides.8 But it seems the real issue for Bashar is that Syria,s dignity and its international reputation are put in question. Fiercely-held sentiments that Syria should continue to exercise dominant control in Lebanon play into these sensitivities. We should seek to exploit this raw nerve, without waiting for formation of the tribunal. — Possible action: — PUBLICITY: Publicly highlighting the consequences of the ongoing investigation a la Mehlis causes Bashar personal DAMASCUS 00005399 002 OF 004 angst and may lead him to act irrationally. The regime has deep-seated fears about the international scrutiny that a tribunal — or Brammertz accusations even against lower-echelon figures — would prompt. The Mehlis accusations of October 2005 caused the most serious strains in Bashar’s inner circle. While the family got back together, these splits may lie just below the surface. — Vulnerability: — THE ALLIANCE WITH TEHRAN: Bashar is walking a fine line in his increasingly strong relations with Iran, seeking necessary support while not completely alienating Syria,s moderate Sunni Arab neighbors by being perceived as aiding Persian and fundamentalist Shia interests. Bashar’s decision to not attend the Talabani ) Ahmadinejad summit in Tehran following FM Moallem,s trip to Iraq can be seen as a manifestation of Bashar’s sensitivity to the Arab optic on his Iranian alliance. — Possible action: — PLAY ON SUNNI FEARS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE: There are fears in Syria that the Iranians are active in both Shia proselytizing and conversion of, mostly poor, Sunnis. Though often exaggerated, such fears reflect an element of the Sunni community in Syria that is increasingly upset by and focused on the spread of Iranian influence in their country through activities ranging from mosque construction to business. Both the local Egyptian and Saudi missions here, (as well as prominent Syrian Sunni religious leaders), are giving increasing attention to the matter and we should coordinate more closely with their governments on ways to better publicize and focus regional attention on the issue. — Vulnerability: — THE INNER CIRCLE: At the end of the day, the regime is dominated by the Asad family and to a lesser degree by Bashar Asad,s maternal family, the Makhlufs, with many family members believe to be increasingly corrupt. The family, and hangers on, as well as the larger Alawite sect, are not immune to feuds and anti-regime conspiracies, as was evident last year when intimates of various regime pillars (including the Makhloufs) approached us about post-Bashar possibilities. Corruption is a great divider and Bashar’s inner circle is subject to the usual feuds and squabbles related to graft and corruption. For example, it is generally known that Maher Asad is particularly corrupt and incorrigible. He has no scruples in his feuds with family members or others. There is also tremendous fear in the Alawite community about retribution if the Sunni majority ever regains power. — Possible Action: — ADDITIONAL DESIGNATIONS: Targeted sanctions against regime members and their intimates are generally welcomed by most elements of Syrian society. But the way designations are applied must exploit fissures and render the inner circle weaker rather than drive its members closer together. The designation of Shawkat caused him some personal irritation and was the subject of considerable discussion in the business community here. While the public reaction to corruption tends to be muted, continued reminders of corruption in the inner circle have resonance. We should look for ways to remind the public of our previous designations. — Vulnerability: — THE KHADDAM FACTOR: Khaddam knows where the regime skeletons are hidden, which provokes enormous irritation from Bashar, vastly disproportionate to any support Khaddam has within Syria. Bashar Asad personally, and his regime in general, follow every news item involving Khaddam with tremendous emotional interest. The regime reacts with self-defeating anger whenever another Arab country hosts Khaddam or allows him to make a public statement through any of its media outlets. — Possible Action: DAMASCUS 00005399 003 OF 004 — We should continue to encourage the Saudis and others to allow Khaddam access to their media outlets, providing him with venues for airing the SARG,s dirty laundry. We should anticipate an overreaction by the regime that will add to its isolation and alienation from its Arab neighbors. Vulnerability: — DIVISIONS IN THE MILITARY-SECURITY SERVICES: Bashar constantly guards against challenges from those with ties inside the military and security services. He is also nervous about any loyalties senior officers (or former senior officers) feel toward disaffected former regime elements like Rif,at Asad and Khaddam. The inner circle focuses continuously on who gets what piece of the corruption action. Some moves by Bashar in narrowing the circle of those who benefit from high-level graft has increased those with ties to the security services who have axes to grind. — Possible Action: — ENCOURAGE RUMORS AND SIGNALS OF EXTERNAL PLOTTING: The regime is intensely sensitive to rumors about coup-plotting and restlessness in the security services and military. Regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be encouraged to meet with figures like Khaddam and Rif,at Asad as a way of sending such signals, with appropriate leaking of the meetings afterwards. This again touches on this insular regime,s paranoia and increases the possibility of a self-defeating over-reaction. Vulnerability: — REFORM FORCES VERSUS BAATHISTS-OTHER CORRUPT ELITES: Bashar keeps unveiling a steady stream of initiatives on economic reform and it is certainly possible he believes this issue is his legacy to Syria. While limited and ineffectual, these steps have brought back Syrian expats to invest and have created at least the illusion of increasing openness. Finding ways to publicly call into question Bashar,s reform efforts )- pointing, for example to the use of reform to disguise cronyism — would embarrass Bashar and undercut these efforts to shore up his legitimacy. Revealing Asad family/inner circle corruption would have a similar effect. — Possible Action: — HIGHLIGHTING FAILURES OF REFORM: Highlighting failures of reform, especially in the run-up to the 2007 Presidential elections, is a move that Bashar would find highly embarrassing and de-legitimizing. Comparing and contrasting puny Syrian reform efforts with the rest of the Middle East would also embarrass and irritate Bashar. — Vulnerability: — THE ECONOMY: Perpetually under-performing, the Syrian economy creates jobs for less than 50 percent of the country,s university graduates. Oil accounts for 70 percent of exports and 30 percent of government revenue, but production is in steady decline. By 2010 Syria is expected to become a net importer of oil. Few experts believe the SARG is capable of managing successfully the expected economic dislocations. — DISCOURAGE FDI, ESPECIALLY FROM THE GULF: Syria has enjoyed a considerable up-tick in foreign direct investment (FDI) in the last two years that appears to be picking up steam. The most important new FDI is undoubtedly from the Gulf. — Vulnerability: — THE KURDS: The most organized and daring political opposition and civil society groups are among the ethnic minority Kurds, concentrated in Syria,s northeast, as well as in communities in Damascus and Aleppo. This group has been willing to protest violently in its home territory when others would dare not. There are few threats that loom larger in Bashar,s mind than unrest with the Kurds. In what DAMASCUS 00005399 004 OF 004 is a rare occurrence, our DATT was convoked by Syrian Military Intelligence in May of 2006 to protest what the Syrians believed were US efforts to provide military training and equipment to the Kurds in Syria. — Possible Action: — HIGHLIGHT KURDISH COMPLAINTS: Highlighting Kurdish complaints in public statements, including publicizing human rights abuses will exacerbate regime,s concerns about the Kurdish population. Focus on economic hardship in Kurdish areas and the SARG,s long-standing refusal to offer citizenship to some 200,000 stateless Kurds. This issue would need to be handled carefully, since giving the wrong kind of prominence to Kurdish issues in Syria could be a liability for our efforts at uniting the opposition, given Syrian (mostly Arab) civil society,s skepticism of Kurdish objectives. — Vulnerability: — Extremist elements increasingly use Syria as a base, while the SARG has taken some actions against groups stating links to Al-Qaeda. With the killing of the al-Qaida leader on the border with Lebanon in early December and the increasing terrorist attacks inside Syria culminating in the September 12 attack against the US embassy, the SARG,s policies in Iraq and support for terrorists elsewhere as well can be seen to be coming home to roost. — Possible Actions: — Publicize presence of transiting (or externally focused) extremist groups in Syria, not limited to mention of Hamas and PIJ. Publicize Syrian efforts against extremist groups in a way that suggests weakness, signs of instability, and uncontrolled blowback. The SARG,s argument (usually used after terror attacks in Syria) that it too is a victim of terrorism should be used against it to give greater prominence to increasing signs of instability within Syria. ¶4. (S) CONCLUSION: This analysis leaves out the anti-regime Syrian Islamists because it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the threat within Syria that such groups pose. They are certainly a long-term threat. While it alludes to the vulnerabilities that Syria faces because of its alliance with Iran, it does not elaborate fully on this topic. The bottom line is that Bashar is entering the new year in a stronger position than he has been in several years, but those strengths also carry with them — or sometimes mask ) vulnerabilities. If we are ready to capitalize, they will offer us opportunities to disrupt his decision-making, keep him off-balance, and make him pay a premium for his mistakes. ROEBUCK
The target of stray bullets and shells coming from Syria, the small Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar has also turned into a hub for Islamist militants – allegedly backed by Ankara.
From Nevroz Algiç’s restaurant one can taste the spicy local food while enjoying the best views over the front line, literally across the street. The fighting is so close that gunfire can still be heard over the arabesque music blaring out of the loudspeakers.
Located 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) southeast of Ankara, Ceylanpinar was once known for its gigantic agricultural complex. However, this city with a population of 40,000 is now yet another victim of the Syrian war. Since October 2012, four residents have been killed and dozens have been wounded by stray bullets, mortars and rockets.
“Before the new teachers would eat here and stay in this guesthouse but none of them wants to come here now. No one knows when the shooting will start or when will it finish,” Algiç tells DW. The bullet holes on these walls are a stark reminder of what’s happening round the corner. Still, material losses are not that important.
“My husband was wounded by shrapnel, my 10-year-old son is traumatized by the explosions and the older one quit university,” adds Algiç, sitting next to one of the broken windows. Behind her, a cargo train slowly moves across the no-man’s land between Turkey and Syria.
It was actually the Orient Express railway, built in 1911, that would help draw the borders of Syria and Turkey 10 years later. Berlin and Baghdad were finally connected but the Kurdish town of Serekaniye was cut in two: the one in Turkey was called Ceylanpinar, its Syrian counterpart was named Ras al Ayn.
On the road to Paradise
Like most others here, Mehmet also has cross-border family ties. The civil servant, who prefers not to disclose his full name, claims that the situation started worsening on a particular night last October.
“That night I saw armed people getting out a caravan of buses. I immediately called the police but they told me not to worry and said that everything was under control,” he told DW. Other residents also spotted armed men crossing the border into Syria. Apparently, they all got the same answer from the local security forces: ‘everything is under control.’”
“We often see buses around with all their curtains drawn. I have no doubt that their passengers are says Mehmet with a sad smile. He criticizes the “silence of the Turkish media on Ankara’s dark moves,” as he puts it.
“Here it’s not about rebels fighting [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, it’s Jabhat al-Nusra – an armed group close to al Qaeda – and Syrian Kurdish fighters engaging in brutal clashes.”
From the beginning of the uprising in March 2011, Syria’s Kurds vowed a “third way” – neither with Assad, nor with the insurgents. Theirs is a neutral position that has led to clashes with both sides, but in July 2012 they took over their stronghold areas, in the north of the country.
The YPG – the main Kurdish militia group – and the Free Syrian Army signed a ceasefire on July 12 in Ras al Ayn but Jabhat al-Nusra distanced iself from the truce.
Many local residents told DW that Ankara is hosting Jabhat al-Nusra fighters in a camp near an unchecked border crossing west of Ceylanpinar.
Ibrahim Polat, a local journalist for the Dicle News Agency, says the allegations are true and adds that Ankara’s alleged backing of Islamists goes even further:
“During the last months hundreds of fighters have been taken by Turkish ambulances from Syria to Ceylanpinar hospital and those with more serious injuries were taken to Balikdigol hospital in Sanliurfa, the provincial capital. Kurdish militiaman are systematically rejected in the local hospitals so they are taken to Qamishlo, Syria’s main Kurdish city,” he told DW.
Anonymous sources from both medical centers told DW that there are no wounded fighters in Ceylanpinar, but that several of them are still being treated in Sanliurfa.
From his office, Musa Çeri, District Governor and member of the AKP, the ruling party in Turkey, dismisses such claims as “false rumors.”
“It is ridiculous to believe that Turkey could possibly back terrorist groups of any kind. My government would never do such a thing,” he told DW, adding that the government of Ankara is “only” struggling to address the ever-growing number of Syrian refugees on Turkish soil – over 200,000 according to UN figures. “Our religion, Islam, compels us to meet the people’s needs,” he says.
Nonetheless, he doesn’t hide his concern for what he considers to be Turkey’s “most pressing terrorist threat.”
“The Syrian Kurdish fighters are nothing but a branch of the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party. If they finally get strong in their areas, they can easily conduct terrorists attacks against us across the border,” he explains. One of Ankara’s biggest fears, he says, is a Kurdish autonomous region similar to that in northern Iraq on Syrian soil.
Meanwhile, Ismail Arslan, Ceylanpinar’s mayor, says his town is paying a high price for the war.
“There have been dead and wounded but people also move elsewhere, shops and business fold, property prices collapse.” And there is another price to pay, he says. “In Ceylanpinar, 60 percent are Kurds and 30 percent Arabs while Assyrians, Turks and members of other nationalities comprise the remaining 10 percent. The nature of the conflict is fuelling mistrust among us and causing a split between our people.”
Arslan says he prefers not to comment on the alleged camp nearby, but denounces Ankara’s role in the area.
“Turkey claims to be a democratic country but it is involved in a very dirty war,” he says. “I’m afraid our problems won’t end until Ankara stops supporting al-Qaeda-affiliated groups inside Syria.”