Last Updated: Wed May 16, 2012 13:09 pm (KSA) 10:09 am (GMT)

Why has al-Qaeda emerged in Syria now?

Ali Ibrahim

Many doubt the credibility of a statement issued by an organization appearing to be a branch of Al Qaeda, calling itself “The Support Front for the People of Syria”, claiming responsibility for the recent bombings that took place in Syria, including the latest bloody explosion in Damascus which killed dozens of bystanders. These bombing campaigns seem to be trying to instill an idea that the regime itself has been trying to promote about the Syrian popular uprising, which has been ongoing for more than a year, namely that it is nothing more than armed terrorist groups trying to intimidate the Syrian citizens and impose their will on the people.
For the most part, the reactions were political, whether at a regional or international level,and reflected parties who continued to stand either against or alongside the Syrian regime. The regime itself immediately took advantage of the bombings to target all the countries standing against its suppression of the popular uprising, accusing them of supporting terrorism, ranging from Turkey to Libya to the Western countries. Meanwhile pro-Assad Russia yesterday said, via its deputy Foreign Minister [Gennady Gatilov] that "for us it is absolutely clear that terrorist groups are behind this – Al Qaeda and those groups that work with Al Qaeda". He warned that this could spell a long and bloody conflict, which neither side is in a position to win. This was also the position of Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah, who similarly warned the Syrians that they are facing two options: either a serious approach to reform led by the Syrian authorities, or destruction. His words are clear here, namely that the destruction he is alluding to is the opposition, whereas reform can only come from the regime.

Nasrallah’s logic inverts the facts, how can the same entity that is supposed to lead reform also be conducting the indiscriminate shelling of Rastan, as happened yesterday, destroying entire neighborhoods in Homs, as happened previously, and causing the displacement of tens of thousands of Syrians outside their own country? Would those with such a destructive ideology also be calling for freedom and justice?

No one can justify the bombings, they are condemned by everyone, including the Syrian opposition that the regime accuses of being responsible, but the question is: why now? What is the purpose of trying to highlight Al Qaeda in the Syrian scene, whether it is true that the perpetrators of the bombing were from a group adopting its ideology or not?

The answer lies in analyzing the stances and positions that have been taken since the beginning of the Syrian uprising until now. The uprising began with simple demands for freedom and justice after a brutal crackdown on children in Deraa, who had written anti-regime slogans on the walls. For long months the Syrians – who had taken the initiative after what happened in Tunisia, Egypt and then Libya to take to the streets – continued to demonstrate peacefully. However, these protests were met with bullets, and thus the protestors escalated their demands in accordance with the magnitude of the reaction from al-Assad’s security machine. Demands soon reached calls to overthrow the regime, and then matters continued to develop over more long months with defections from the Syrian military and the establishment of the Free Syrian Army [FSA].

Ever since the first weeks of the uprising the regime has been trying to promote the image that the demonstrators are in fact armed gangs or extremists. However, the world was not convinced after seeing the images and videos that showed it was actually the regime’s forces that were behaving like armed gangs, whether they were the regular forces or the pro-regime Shabiha militia, who have been terrorizing the Syrian people. The regime played – and succeeded in part – the game of scaremongering, warning other minorities that this was a Sunni uprising. It argued that if the Sunnis – being the majority sect in Syria – came to power, they would abuse other sects, something that has been denied by the opposition over and over again.

Therefore, extremist organizations or groups entering the scene in Syria will not benefit anyone apart from the regime, in order for it to justify the continuation of its armed operations and the presence of its tanks inside cities, contravening Kofi Annan’s initiative which it had previously accepted. Even if the regime is not behind these groups directly, it is indirectly responsible for them. If we cast our memories back to the stories of bloody bombing campaigns in Iraq, and the infiltration of Al Qaeda fighters into Iraq from all over the world, their route always passed through Damascus and the training camps concentrated on the Syrian-Iraqi border. It is not conceivable that all this could have been done without the knowledge of the authorities in a regime known for the iron fist of its security apparatus. Therefore these groups, and the style of their bombings, are the merchandise of this regime, and something that it previously exported across the region!


The writer is the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat. The article was published in the London-based daily on May 15, 2012

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