Saturday 12 May 2012

Syria and al-Qaeda: A love-hate relationship

Syria's Bashar al-Assad and al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri
The love-hate relationship between Syria and al-Qaeda enthralls Arab political analysts.
Three of them specifically delve into the liaison today as:
  • the state-run Syrian news network Champress releases the names and nationalities of what it claims to be 26 “terrorists” – 20 of them al-Qaeda operatives -- captured by government authorities, and
  • a statement by the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA) requested a UN-mandated commission of inquiry to determine who stands behind Thursday’s twin bombings in Damascus and why. The statement denied the FSA was behind the blasts, accusing the regime instead of carrying them out to discredit the opposition.
Of the 26 “terrorists” named in the Champress document, 20 are Tunisian, two are Lebanese, one is Lebanese-Palestinian, and the remaining three are one each from Libya, Egypt and Jordan.
Champress says the official document with the full names, personal details, particulars and date of arrest of each of the 20 al-Qaeda and six other “terrorists” was submitted by Syria’s permanent UN representative Bashar at-Jaafari to the UN Security Council.
The document shows most of the “terrorists” had infiltrated into Syria through Turkey and were captured in March.
The FSA statement, for its part, said, “The illegitimate Syrian regime continues to kill and target unarmed civilians through bombings in Damascus and other cities. (Thursday’s twin) bombings in Qazaz are another desperate attempt by the regime to support its claims regarding the existence of ‘terrorists’ and ‘armed gangs’.
“It has been conclusively proven these bombings are perpetrated by the illegitimate regime, and we request the following to be taken into consideration:
  • “The bombings followed Kofi Annan’s recent statements, which suggested the Syrian regime may not be adhering to the six-point peace plan...
  • “The FSA does not possess the necessary capability to conduct such bombings
  • “A car containing bodies of detainees was found on the site… and it was later discovered it was brought to the affected area
  • “The speed with which state-run news agencies showed up at the scene to provide live coverage
  • "The FSA is incapable of reaching the site of the explosions, as it is a heavily guarded security complex
  • “The summoning of UNSMIS mission chief, Gen. Robert Mood, to the site of the explosions for him to give statements that may serve the Syrian regime’s claims
  • “FSA members defected from regime forces to protect civilians, not to harm them.
“Therefore, we condemn this cowardly terrorist act and hold the regime fully responsible for it. We ask the UN to set up a team of international experts to investigate these bombings, and urge Mr. Annan to declare the failure of his peace plan, and to hold the regime accountable for the failure. We also call for the arming of the Free Syrian Army and request an emergency UN Security Council meeting, so it can pass a resolution under Chapter 7 facilitating the protection of Syrian civilians.”
Ali Hamade, political analyst for the independent Beirut daily an-Nahar, focuses today on what he calls Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s “love story” with al-Qaeda.
Few people, he writes believed the Syrian regime’s narrative about the twin-bombings in Damascus, opposite the infamous “Palestine Military Branch” where regime opponents are interrogated and tortured.
“Few expressed their condolences to Assad. Few believed the regime’s innocence of a crime that harmed ordinary civilians more than it hurt the regime’s shabiha militia or its Palestine Military Branch criminals.
“Few believe the regime was not al-Qaeda’s partner for several years in Iraq’s dance of death as well as al-Qaeda’s death dancing partner for four decades in Lebanon.”
More recently, Hamade notes, didn’t Syria also manufacture “Fatah al-Islam” in Lebanon? It is an open secret, he says, that today’s al-Qaeda is “a gun for hire” – much as the Carlos terrorist group of the Seventies.
Hamade says the February 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s Rafik Hariri marked the pinnacle of four-way cooperation linking Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda.
According to Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of Saudi Arabia’s leading daily Asharq Alawsat, “Thursday’s Damascus bombings show the Assad regime’s ruse paying off this time… The regime succeeded in hard-pressing all sides – the Syrian opposition as well the international community… When the Assad regime decries the death of 55 Syrians in the Damascus bombings, why does no one ask him about the 12,000 Syrians his regime killed over the past year?”
The head of Saudi-owned Alarabiya television news channel Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, also writing of Asharq Alawsat, says Damascus was heartened and couldn’t believe its ears on hearing US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta tell reporters late on Thursday that intelligence indicates there is an "al-Qaeda presence in Syria… Frankly we need to continue to do everything we can to determine what kind of influence they're trying to exert there."
Rashed says, “The Syrian government wants to convince the world that it is fighting terrorists, al-Qaeda and the forces of darkness, not a popular uprising standing up to a brutal regime. That’s what Damascus is desperate to make Western public opinion believe.”
The regime is a maestro at concocting terror scenarios to serve its own ends. It proved it in Lebanon by simultaneously assassinating Rafik Hariri and concocting the storyline of “Abu-Adass.” It confirmed in Lebanon again in 2007, when it planted Fatah al-Islam in Nahr al-Bared. It also proved it by gathering al-Qaeda volunteers from across the region before ensuring their safe passage to Iraq. It is now frantically trying to persuade the world to choose between Bashar al-Assad and Ayman al-Zawahiri.