|Ayman al-Zawahiri (photo from ken-welch.com)|
I was taken aback last December, when Lebanese Defense Minister Fayez Ghosn, who represents the pro-Syrian Marada Movement in the Hezbollah-led government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati, made the surprise remark that al-Qaeda operatives, pretending to be Syrian oppositionists, were smuggling arms into Syria from north Lebanon’s town of Ersal.
Since Ghosn made the claim, Syria blamed two suicide bombings in each of Damascus and Aleppo on al-Qaeda.
On February 11, an audiotape from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian exile presumably based in Pakistan who runs what’s left of “al-Qaeda Central,” called for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Five days later, top U.S. intelligence officials pointed to al-Qaeda in Iraq as the likely culprit behind the four suicide bombings in Syria.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress the blasts “bore the earmarks” of al- Qaeda in Iraq, which “is extending its reach into Syria” – possibly with Iran’s help -- by infiltrating Syrian opposition groups, likely without their knowledge.
"It does raise concerns for us that al-Qaeda is trying to assert a presence there," Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said at the Pentagon. "As to just what their role is and how extensive their role is, I think that still remains to be seen."
Shedding light on that role obliquely this week is veteran Iraqi journalist Ibrahim al-Zubaidi.
His piece for the London-based Arabic-language online newspaper Elaph revolves around his conversation with a “friend from Iraq’s province of Salahuddin.”
It occurred to me to touch on politics and asked my friend, “Are there still gangs going around killing policemen, servicemen and day laborers gathering to look for work in the name of resistance and struggle against the occupation now that we’ve seen the last of the occupiers?”
My friend sighed briefly and said, “Yes, we continue receiving ‘gifts’ from the mujahedeen and insurgents…”
“I don’t deny,” added my friend from the province of Salahuddin, “that among them are nationalists and well-intentioned people. But many of them are either totally ignorant of true religion, racists or religious bigots. They are well-disposed to be exploited by al-Qaeda, the Baath Party or others who do not wish this country well.”
I asked my friend, “Is there really al-Qaeda in Salahuddin – I mean the al-Qaeda of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri?”
My friend replied with a wry smile on his face: “We have several al-Qaedas, not a lone al-Qaeda. The al-Qaedas we had in the past, we have today and might be having for years to come are disjoined armed groups. Doctrine, thought, funding, planning or exile does not tie them.
“They very much resemble day laborer gatherings on specific road intersection tracking the ebb and flow of employers and hoping to be picked up for work. They also look like the concrete mixer trucks that are used by real estate developers. Moreover, you can say our al-Qaedas are taxi cabs ready to ferry whoever is willing to pay them their fare…”
What triggered this chat with my friend was a report I read on Sky.com about al-Qaeda and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This is part of what I read:
“Sky News’ intelligence sources have said Iran has been supplying al-Qaeda with training in the use of advanced explosives, ‘some funding and a safe haven,’ as part of a deal worked out in 2009 which has now led to ‘operational capacity.’”
Sky News revealed in its report that “Iran and al-Qaeda’s core leadership under Ayman al-Zawahiri have established an ‘operational relationship’ amid fears the terror group is planning a spectacular attack against the West.”
This intelligence information surfaced when a video message from Zawahiri was rallying al-Qaeda support for the Syrian uprising. Recent remarks by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, by Hezbollah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah and by Iraqi ruling party spokespersons are meant to convey the impression that al-Qaeda is a key partner in the Syrian revolution. A concerted and desperate campaign is underway to save Assad’s regime.
Iran wants to replicate (in Syria) the template it used with great success in Iraq – a template that allowed all its proxies to eventually assume all key government positions in post-war Iraq on grounds that they are diehard enemies of al-Qaeda when in truth some were al-Qaeda operatives who had been living safely with their families in Iran.
My friend from Salahuddin is right. The love cab is parked on the taxi rank waiting for any customer willing to pay the fare for a delightful journey.
May God help our Syrian, Iraqi and other Arab brothers!