Powerful documentary made by Vice News that exposes what we have been relaying on Syria for many months. The take over of “rebel” held positions in Syria by people indoctrinated with Nazi-style propaganda by al-Qaeda.
by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
March 4, 2014
His hands are barely large enough to reach the trigger, but the 5-year-old boy pulls hard on his AK-47 as his father stands beside him cheering. Elsewhere, a boy of 4 raises a machete, then strikes, beheading an unarmed prisoner.
These are the scenes that are emerging from Syria now, as opposition groups ranging from the Free Syrian Army to the al-Qaida affiliated Al Nusra Front recruit children, boys barely old enough to stand alone, to fight. But unlike most young boys who frequently play “soldier” and “superhero,” pitting the good guys against the bad guys, their weaponry is real. And there aren’t any good guys.
A Human Rights Watch report sounded the alarm as early as 2012, noting the documented deaths of “at least 17 children who fought with the FSA. Many others have been severely injured, and some permanently disabled.” Few listened.
Yet now, videos recently uploaded to the Internet depicting boys on the streets of Syria confirm this and other reports about the rise in child soldiers in the ongoing civil war. In addition, the United Nations Security Council’s “Report on Children and Armed Conflict in the Syrian-Arab Republic,” dated Jan. 27, discloses horrific abuses by President Bashar Assad’s forces, who subject children to unspeakable forms of torture:
Government forces have also been responsible for the arrest, arbitrary detention, ill treatment and torture of children. Armed opposition groups have been responsible for the recruitment of children both in combat and support roles, as well as for conducting military operations, including using terror tactics, in civilian-populated areas, leading to civilian casualties including children.
Torture often is used against children to force confessions from their relatives, studies have found. “Ill treatment and acts tantamount to torture reportedly included beatings with metal cables, whips, and wooden and metal batons; electric shocks, including to the genitals; the ripping out of fingernails and toenails; sexual violence, including rape or threats of rape; mock executions; cigarette burns; sleep deprivation; solitary confinement; and exposure to the torture of relatives,” according to the UN Security Council’s analysis. “Reports indicate that children were also suspended from walls or ceilings by their wrists or other limbs, were forced to put their head, neck, and legs through a tire while being beaten, and were tied to a board and beaten.”
It doesn’t stop there: further evidence also suggests that Syrian armed forces have arrested young children – girls as well as boys – to use as human shields. And none of this includes the sexual violence against girls, perpetrated by male fighters on all sides of the conflict.
It is almost too much to bear, simply reading of these atrocities. Imagine being a child, living them.
MEMRI: Videos and images that surfaced recently show members of Los Angeles gangs fighting in Syria alongside pro-Hizbullah and pro-Assad forces. Two gang members, “Creeper,” from the G’d Up-13 gang and “Wino,” from the Westside Armenian Power gang, filmed themselves shooting AK-47s and boasting of being on the “front lines.” Wino, aka “Wino Ayee Peeyakan,” whose real name is Nerses Kilajyan, uploaded the images and videos to his Facebook profile.
The images on Wino’s Facebook page include multiple photos of him brandishing weapons; in one he is seen standing beside a Hizbullah operative, and in another he himself is wearing Hizbullah garb. Creeper is photographed and filmed alongside Wino in multiple photos and videos posted on the page.
Judging by the photos, Wino seems to have been fighting in Syria since December 2012. Comments by Wino’s Facebook friends suggest that the two were deported from the U.S. due to their involvement in criminal activity.
In the first of its kind, a hard-line Islamist group vying for power in Syria, live “tweeted” the amputation of an accused thief’s hand on Twitter.
The gruesome photos released by the group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) on a live internet feed came in a series: The first one showed a blind-folded man being held next to a table with one man dressed in a traditional white robe reading a statement. Standing next to him is a man in a traditional black balaclava holding a large sword.
The second shot shows the man being retrained while the sword comes down on his hand. The last shot shows the man looking like he has fainted with his severed hand lying bloodied on the table.
ISI claimed that the man asked for the punishment “in order to cleanse his sins.”
Twitter subsequently suspended the account from its website.
ISIS, an outgrowth of the Al Qaeda-linked ISI (Islamic State in Iraq) was formed in Iraq nearly a year ago but was disowned by Al Qaeda Feb. 3 for being too extreme. The group, composed of mainly foreign jihadis, has become a major player in the war against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
After gaining control of Raqqa in northern Syria, ISIS recently imposed dhimma status (second-class) status on the Christian population according to sharia law in exchange for protection. According to ISIS, 20 Christian leaders accepted the terms, which were: payment of 17 kilos of gold as jizya [tax on non-Muslims], refraining from any public expression of Christianity and no renovation of churches, ringing church bells or Christian prayer in public. ISIS also forbade Christians to possess weapons and to sell pork or alcohol to Muslims.
In related news, ISIS agreed to withdraw from the border town of Azaz in northern Syria on Friday, handing the city over to the Free Syrian Army. The first-time-ever retreat followed a threat by a rival jihadi group, the Al-Nusra Front, who demanded that ISIS leave Syria.
“I swear by God, if you again refuse God’s judgment, and do not stop your plague and pushing your ignorant ideology on the Muslim nation then you will be expelled, even from Iraq,” Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, head of Al-Nusra Front, is quoted as saying said in an internet message.
Residents had reported that a 16-year-old commander of ISIS had ruled the town with strict sharia law.
The Syrian military and its ally Hezbollah killed more than 170 Islamists from the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, and the Islamic Front during an ambush in an area just outside of the capital of Damascus. “Saudis, Qataris, and Chechens” were among those killed, according to the government-owned news agency.
“A military source said that an army unit eliminated scores of terrorists of ‘Jabhat al Nusrah’ and the so-called “Islam battalion” according to intelligence information in an ambush in the Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Countryside,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA, reported.
An estimated “175 terrorists were killed” and “most of them [were] Saudis, Qataris, and Chechens.” according to SANA.
The SANA report was corroborated by the independent Syrian Observatory for Human Rights as well as Al Manar, a news outlet run by Hezbollah.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that “no less than 70 fighters from Islamic battalions, were killed by an ambush by Hezbollah and regime forces, between the towns of Al-Eteba and Myda’a in the eastern Ghouta.” An additional 89 fighters were separated from the main group and “they may have been killed [in] the ambush.”
The Observatory often uses the term “Islamic battalions” to describe the Islamic Front, the coalition of six major Islamist brigades that was formed late last year and is allied with the Al Nusrah Front. Abu Khalid al Suri, a senior Islamic Front leader who was killed last weekend, served as Ayman al Zawahiri’s personal representative for Syria.
Al Manar reported that “up to 170 terrorist militants, including foreigners” were killed “through a perfect ambush” by the Syrian military. Al Manar did not report on Hezbollah involvement in the attack.
Foreign fighters often join with Al Nusrah or the rival Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham, but also are known to fight in the brigades of the Islamic Front.
Chechens fight within the ranks of the Muhajireen Army, which has split into two factions. One faction fights for Al Nusrah, and another fights for the ISIS. Saifullah al Shishani, a Chechen commander who led a large unit in Al Nusrah, was killed by the Syrian military in early February during fighting in Aleppo.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which controls the city of Al-Raqqa, announced that it had signed a “Security” pact with the Christian residents of Al-Raqqa in return for their embracing the laws of dhimma – protection. In a statement dated February 23, 2014, that ISIS published in the city, the organization said that it posed three alternatives to Christians who had fled Al-Raqqa, but now sought to return:
- Convert to Islam
- Accept the conditions of dhimma
- Reject these offers and face war
The statement claimed the agreement to sign the pact was reached at a meeting between representatives of ISIS and the Christian community.
The pact’s wording and clauses follow dhimma pacts made by medieval Islamic states, with a few modifications that take consideration of modern developments, such as the ban on using megaphones to broadcast prayers. The text opens with a polemic against Christianity, quoting Quranic verses claiming Islam’s superiority over Christianity and the veracity of Islamic theological positions.
It then states: “This is the protection that Abdallah Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the commander of the faithful, granted the Christians of Al-Raqqa. He granted security to their lives, their property, their churches and their progeny in Al-Raqqa. Their churches and their surroundings will not be destroyed or harmed, nor will their property. They will not be coerced with regard to their religion [i.e. they will not be forced to convert to Islam], and none of them will be harmed.”
The pact incorporates the following restrictions on the Christians:
- They are forbidden to build new churches or rebuild destroyed ones.
- They must not showcase crosses or religious books, and they are forbidden to use megaphones to broadcast their prayers.
- They must not read their books out loud in front of Muslims or sound their bells.
- They must not carry out any hostile actions against ISIS, or provide refuge to spies or persons wanted by ISIS. They must inform ISIS of any “conspiracy” against it.
- They must refrain from any display of worship outside their church.
- They may not prevent any member of their community from converting to Islam.
- They must honor Islam and the Muslims, and not offend their religion in any way.
- The Christians committed to pay a poll tax of “4 golden dinars” i.e. 17 grams of gold for the wealthy, 8.5 for middle income owners, and half of that for the poor.
- They are forbidden to carry weapons.
- They are forbidden to sell pork or wine to the Muslims or publicly consume them.
- They must comply with any additional restrictions that ISIS may impose on their dress, trade or other matters.
In conclusion ISIS stated that as long as the Christians comply with these restrictions they will be protected. If they violate them, they will be treated as enemies at war.
See photos of the pact at MEMRI
A report by John Rossomando at IPT states that although Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has disowned ISIS, this dhimma pact bears the al Qaeda stamp.
AP, By BASSEM MROUE and AYA BATRAWY:
BISARIYEH, Lebanon (AP) — The once-tranquil, religiously mixed village of Bisariyeh is seething: Two of its young men who fought alongside the rebels in Syria recently returned home radicalized and staged suicide bombings in Lebanon.
The phenomenon is being watched anxiously across the Mideast, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where authorities are moving decisively to prevent citizens from going off to fight in Syria.
The developments illustrate how the Syrian war is sending dangerous ripples across a highly combustible region and sparking fears that jihadis will come home with dangerous ideas and turn their weapons against their own countries.
In Lebanon, where longstanding tensions between Sunnis and Shiites have been heightened by the conflict next door, the fear of blowback has very much turned into reality.
The social fabric of towns and villages across the country is being torn by conflicting loyalties and a wave of bombings carried out by Sunni extremists in retaliation for the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah’s military support of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
In the past few months, at least five Sunni men have disappeared from Bisariyeh, an impoverished, predominantly Shiite village in south Lebanon, and are believed to have gone to fight in Syria.
“He was a good man with a good heart, but it seems that people who have no conscience brainwashed him,” Hisham al-Mughayar said of his 20-year-old son.
As news spread in the village that Nidal was one of the bombers, angry Shiite residents marched to his parents’ home and set it on fire along with the family’s grocery and four vehicles.
“He destroyed himself and destroyed us with him,” said the father, as he took an Associated Press reporter on a tour of his torched, two-story house, much of its furniture reduced to ashes.
Concern about such radicalization has sent Mideast governments scrambling into action.
The move, in part, reflects pressure from Saudi ally the U.S., which wants to see the overthrow of Assad but is alarmed by the rising influence of hard-line foreign jihadists — many of them linked to al-Qaida — among the rebels.
Many Saudis have been easy recruitment targets for jihadist organizations. Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi. The oil-rich kingdom was among several nations that backed the anti-communist mujahedeen forces fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and Saudi fighters have traveled to other Muslim hotspots around the world since then.
More recently, at the urging of Saudi preachers and even judges, thousands of fighters from Saudi Arabia — home to a strict, puritanical strain of Sunni Islam — have joined the 3-year-old uprising against Assad, whose government is dominated by members of his Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Saudi officials said fewer than 3,000 Saudis are believed to be fighting in Syria, but analysts and other estimates put the figure as high as 15,000.
While Saudi Arabia continues to support opposition groups in Syria with weapons and other aid, King Abdullah issued a decree in the past month: Any citizen who fights abroad faces three to 20 years in prison. And anyone who incites people to join foreign wars can get five to 30 years.
“The Saudis are very much concerned about a repeat of the 2004 jihadist insurgency inside the kingdom, led at the time by Osama Bin Laden,” said analyst Bilal Saab, referring to a wave of militant attacks inside the country.
“It took time and a considerable amount of resources to counter the insurgency then. If it were to happen again in today’s regional environment where radicalization is on the increase, Saudi counterterrorism efforts will face even more formidable challenges,” added Saab, a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council.
History is rife with examples of militants returning home from wars with radical intentions.
by Yaakov Lappin
Special to IPT News
February 27, 2014
As Syria’s brutal civil war drags on, Israeli military officials are preparing to deal with a rapidly changing security reality brought on by an influx of Islamic jihadists from throughout the world.
In this new emerging landscape, both Shi’ite and Sunni terrorist entities grow more powerful and enjoy access to advanced weapons.
Monday night, Lebanese media reported that the Israeli Air Force bombed Hizballah targets on the Syria-Lebanese border, allegedly targeting the transfer of advanced arms, and killing Hizballah operatives.
Israel did not confirm the reports. In the past, it has publicly warned that attempts to move strategic weapons from Syria to the Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite Hizballah would not be tolerated.
“Our policy is clear,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response to a question on the raid, “we will not speak about reports of what we did or didn’t do – but we do all that is necessary in order to defend our citizens.”
The Israeli defense establishment is determined to prevent strategic weapons from falling into the hands of any terrorists, and is deeply concerned by the fact that Hizballah is the most heavily armed terror group on Earth.
That arsenal consists of some 100,000 rockets and missiles, and Hizballah also is trying to obtain satellite-guided projectiles in order to target Israeli air bases and national infrastructure installations in a future war.
But the Middle Eastern regional upheaval, and the Syrian civil war, has also created a new radical presence on Israel’s border, in the form of 30,000 Sunni jihadis, made up of foreign and local recruits. Most belong to Al-Qaida’s official branch in Syria, Jabhat Al-Nusra, and its rival group, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In Syria, the two groups have collectively carried out 15 percent of all suicide bombings in the world in 2013, and are raiding Syrian army arms warehouses as they combat the Assad regime.
Both groups seek the establishment of a radical Islamic caliphate, and as such, are ideologically committed to Israel’s annihilation.
Additionally, Jabhat Al-Nusra is under the command of Al Qaida central chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who is attempting to orchestrate jihad attacks against Israel.
Events in Syria show that predictions of al-Qaida being on the ropes were premature. Al-Qaida and other jihadi elements are witnessing a resurgence on a massive scale, filling in the vacuum left by the shrunken Syrian state.
Across the border in Israel, the IDF believes that the chances of an all-out war in the region have fallen, but that the chances of a border incident sparking a wider conflict have risen due to all of the instability in the region.
For this reason, the IDF announced this week the deployment of a new territorial division to the Golan Heights on the Syrian border. The 210th Division will replace the previous division on the border, and will specialize in combatting terrorism and guerrilla attacks from Syria.
Its aim will be to contain incidents and respond quickly, thereby preventing a wider escalation.
Its modus operandi will be based on substantial intelligence capabilities, combined with precision firepower. Senior IDF commanders say they hope this combination can help prevent a border incident from spinning out of control and turning into a wider conflict.
These lines of defense will be backed by air defense systems, like the Iron Dome batteries against short-range rockets and David’s Sling, designed to cope with larger missiles.
According to Israel’s Military Intelligence, Syria is undergoing a historic, strategic change, and will never go back to what it was.
The Syrian army is not seeking conflict with IDF, and for now, rebel forces aren’t either. But radical jihadi units are gaining ground on Syrian-Israeli border, and likely will turn their weapons on Israel at some point.
Sunday’s assassination of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s representative in Syria underscores an ongoing power struggle among jihadist movements there.
Abu Khalid al-Suri was killed in a suicide bombing conducted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Ahrar al-Sham leader Hassan Aboud announced in a Twitter posting that Abu Khalid al-Suri, whose real name was Mohamed Bahaiah, had been killed. Al-Suri co-founded Ahrar al-Sham, a leading Salafi-jihadi group in Syria, according to the Daily Mail.
Zawahiri sent him Syria as his personal representative in the region last May, theLong War Journal reports. He was supposed to mediate divisions between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. That didn’t work.
“Direct your car bombs at the infidels and do not busy yourself with fighting the mujahedeen and killing them,” al-Suri said in a recording aimed at ISIS last month. Both were al-Qaida affiliates before Zawahiri announced that ISIS had no connection with the global terrorist movement on Feb. 3.
Al-Suri had been a trusted courier of Osama bin Laden’s. A 2003 New York Times story cited a Spanish judicial official as saying that he was “the person who was totally trusted by many different people in the various countries and was able to coordinate and transmit orders from bin Laden.” The report said that he had been a key intermediary between the top al-Qaida leadership in Pakistan and jihadists in Spain and the United Kingdom.
He also had ties with Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, better known in intelligence circles as Abu Musab al-Suri, a prominent Syrian al-Qaida theorist who championed decentralizing the terror group. Nasar’s name surfaced as a suspect in the March 11, 2004 Madrid train bombing.
Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic Front have been fighting ISIS with increasing ferocity since the beginning of the year. Infighting between the various jihadist factions will worsen as a result of al-Suri’s assassination, Islamic Front spokesman Akram al-Halabi told the Associated Press.
- Islamic Front official posts pictures of al Qaeda’s top representative in Syria (longwarjournal.org)
The Jordanian government Sunday, Feb. 23 vehemently denied reports that Syrian rebels were undergoing training by American and its own military instructors and being sent back to fight government forces. According to US intelligence sources, those training camps have been turning out 250 rebel fighters per course and some 1,000 trainees all told are already in action on Syria’s battlefields. The Syrian government journal Tishrin has repeatedly warned Jordan that it is “playing with fire.”
On Feb. 18, Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, quite openly visited injured Syrians at an IDF military field hospital on the Golan. They chatted with wounded rebel soldiers. But on the quiet, our sources report that they took a good look at Quneitra (pop: 10,000), which is located close to Israeli lines on the Syrian side of the enclave.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report that a new Syrian rebel command center has been set up there, with the help of the US, Jordan and Israel. The CIA is investing great effort into restoring the combat capabilities of the disbanded Free Syrian Army and incorporating splinter militias likewise opposed to radical Islamist groups in a revived rebel fighting force under the command of Brig.Gen. Abdul-Illah al-Bashir
Based in the tiny Golan town of Quneitra, he has been given the grand title of “Chief of Staff of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army.”
Gen. al-Bashir defected from the Syrian army in 2012. His main qualification for the new job is his membership of the Syrian Bedouin Al Nuaim tribe, which ranges through the Golan and southern Syria. When he defected, he was followed by army officers who are fellow tribesmen.
The rebel force shaping up in Quneitra therefore consists of many indigenous fighters and a large component of local Al Nuaim tribesmen.
It is more likely than not that the new pro-American Syrian rebel force mustered under Israel’s nose is also guaranteed Israeli military insurance against a surprise attack or any hostile attempts to wipe it out. It stands to reason that this function was closely examined during the visit Israeli leaders paid to the Golan last week and is also the subject of intensive talks between Jerusalem and Washington.
But meanwhile Syrian President Bashar Assad is not standing idle.
Exactly a week ago, Saturday night, Feb. 15, the Syrian army ambushed a group of trained Syrian rebels as they crossed in from Jordan. Middle East sources reported that many were killed and others took to their heels and fled.
In the last two days, the Syrian army has moved in for an offensive on the environs of Quneitra to corner the new rebel command center. Two outlying villages, Rasm al-Hour and Rasm al-Sad, fell into the hands of government forces.
Clearly, the US-Israeli-Jordanian effort to establish a rebel-controlled border strip across the Syrian border will not be a cake walk.
Furthermore, a bomb car which exploded Sunday at the town of Atmeh on the Syrian-Iraqi border targeted a rebel-run military field hospital. At least nine people were killed.
This was another message from Damascus – this one picked up in Jerusalem that the field hospital set up on the Golan for injured Syrians is also in the sights of the Syrian army.
BY JONATHAN SPYER:
Jerusalem Post, 21/2
Will Israel be dragged into the Syrian conflict?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit this week to an IDF field hospital where wounded Syrians are receiving treatment served to showcase the Israeli humanitarian effort to respond to the crisis facing Syrian civilians caught up in the ongoing conflict. Recent reports suggest that the Israeli focus on events in southern Syria goes beyond purely humanitarian concerns.
Increasing attention is being paid by Israeli planners to the buildup of extreme Sunni Islamist forces close to the border with the Golan Heights. There are indications that Israel has already begun to implement a strategy intended to keep the jihadis from the border.
According to a report by prominent Israeli Middle East analyst Ehud Ya’ari published recently at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Israel is currently moving toward ‘assuming a modest role in the Syrian civil war.’
Ya’ari notes that the extent of Israel’s humanitarian operation inside Syria suggests that ‘a system of communications and frequent contacts have been established with the local rebel militias.’
The Israeli analyst reports that the background to such increased engagement is the loss by the Assad regime of control of most of the border area between southern Syria and the Golan Heights. Israeli contacts with the rebel militias in this area would serve to facilitate the latter acting as a de facto buffer against the jihadis.
This largely off-the-radar activity in the south forms part of a broader Israeli concern at the increasingly prominent role played by jihadi and Sunni Islamist elements in the Syrian rebellion.
An un-named senior IDF officer quoted in a recent article in Defense News noted that ‘Today, rebels control most of the area of the south Golan Heights…Among rebel forces, the moderates are increasingly exhausted while the radicals have become strengthened.’
He added that ‘For the moment, they are not fighting us, but we know their ideology. … It could be that, in the coming months, we could find ourselves dragged into confrontation with them.”
IDF Military Intelligence head Aviv Kochavi, meanwhile, in an address at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv on January 29 estimated that around 30,000 jihadi fighters were active in Syria. Ya’ari, meanwhile, estimated the strength of Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) as around 40,000 fighters.
These numbers are of particular interest in that they are considerably in excess of the estimates made by most analysts of Syria concerning the numbers of extreme jihadis present on the Syrian battlefield. While accurate estimates of combatant forces on the Syrian rebel side are notoriously hard to come by, the more usual estimate of the combined strength of al-Qaeda linked forces in Syria would be between 15-20,000.
This suggests that Israeli estimates may take a somewhat broader definition of what constitutes extreme salafi and al-Qaeda linked groups than those made by western analysts.
A third openly salafi force plays a prominent role mainly in northern Syria. This is the Ahrar al-Sham group, thought to number around 20,000 fighters. This group has no known links with the central leadership of al-Qaeda. Yet it adheres to an extreme salafi ideology. One of its leading members, Abu Khaled al-Suri, recently described himself as a member of al-Qaeda.
If it is indeed the case that Israeli analysts would include Ahrar al Sham and groups of this type under the rubric of potentially dangerous Sunni jihadi forces (and there are good reasons to do so), then this has interesting implications.
Read more at Gloria Center
By: R. Green, Research Fellow at MEMRI
The global jihad movement has been experiencing a rift of unprecedented proportions in light of the events in Syria. The rising tension between the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a multitude of other rebel groups, which has escalated to the point of fierce fighting, has forced Al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan-Pakistan to publicly distance itself from ISIS. The following is a review of the events that led to this schism and the conclusions to be drawn from them.
Global jihad has been involved in the war in Syria from the outset. Initially, elements associated with it began operating in Syria as part of a new organization named Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN). The organization, which officially announced its existence in early 2012, portrayed itself as a group of Syrian jihad fighters and avoided revealing that it was established by the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). In April 2013, ISI leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared he was eliminating JN as an independent organization and merging it with the ISI, and that the joint organization would henceforth be known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
JN commander Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani rejected this declaration and announced that he and his men would continue operating independently as part of JN. He publicly declared his association with Al-Qaeda and renewed his oath of fealty to its leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. From this point, a struggle developed between the two organizations over the leadership of the jihad in Syria, with each side attempting to recruit as many fighters as possible and as much support as possible from leading Salafi-jihadi clerics. Al-Zawahiri himself attempted to arbitrate in this matter, determining that ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi should remain in Iraq and leave the Syrian front to Al-Joulani and JN. He even appointed his confidant, Abu Khalid Al-Suri, as his personal representative in Syria. Al-Baghdadi surprisingly rejected this decision and declared that “the Islamic State remains in Syria.”
Throughout the summer and fall of 2013, ISIS gathered strength in the field and became an influential element in rebel-controlled areas. Its success leaned on several foundations:
1. Quality military actions thanks to efficient organization and hierarchy.
2. Effective function on the battlefield with the use of ruthless tactics.
3. An aggressive and sophisticated informational array.
4. Massive recruitment of foreign fighters, who mostly joined ISIS whether they came from Arab countries, Asia, or the West.
5. Considerable financial resources.
6. The flow of manpower from Iraq thanks to successful prison breaks in the course of which many members of the organization were sprung. Yes? They were members of the organization to begin with?
7. The support of leading clerics and figures in the global Salafi-jihadi movement.
Al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan-Pakistan, which attributes supreme importance to the Syrian arena, was forced to throw in its lot with JN. It sent a delegation of advisors and instructors who were veterans of battles in Afghanistan-Pakistan to assist Al-Joulani, and upgraded JN to an official Al-Qaeda affiliate. Since several months ago the title “Al-Qaeda in Syria” appears alongside JN’s name.
ISIS center in Al-Dana, near Idlib, bombed by rival rebel forces
Tension Between Rebel Groups And ISIS
ISIS has in fact been in conflict with other rebel groups ever since its establishment in April 2013 – both with groups associated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and with Islamist organizations that strive to establish an Islamic state. The struggle is for around control of territory, cities and resources, and often plays out on the local level between ISIS and local militias and bodies. In addition, there is opposition to the very existence of ISIS in Syria, since it is seen as an outside body relying on foreign fighters and as an extremist organization whose ideology and tactics harm the image of all rebels. This, on top of the organization’s tendency to spread its extremist beliefs and strictly enforce shari’a law.
In November 2013, six Salafi organizations and groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood announced the establishment of the Islamic Front – a coalition estimated to include some 100,000 fighters. One of the goals of its establishment, which was clear to all even though it was not openly stated, was to reduce the power of ISIS and present an ostensibly moderate Islamic alternative to global jihad organizations. In recent month ISIS and Islamic Front officials have been exchanging recriminations and tensions have escalated to armed confrontations in several places. The Islamic Front is considered close to the Gulf states, who see it as a major role-player in the war against the Assad regime, as well as a means to reduce the danger they face from the extremist agenda of ISIS. It should be mentioned that JN and its officials hold close ties with the Islamic Front.
Following the unification of the Islamist factions, additional coalitions were established, such as Jaysh Al-Mujahideen in the Aleppo area, whose stated purpose is to fight ISIS and remove it from Syria.
The struggle between ISIS and JN over the leadership of the jihadi arena in Syria, two jihadi organizations that share the same world view, currently encompasses all jihadi circles in the world. Clerics, preachers, activists, donors – all are compelled to take sides. Al-Qaeda central in Afghanistan-Pakistan has always seen itself as the spearhead of jihadi fighters – a kind of guiding body that remotely controls jihadi organizations around the globe. The West too sees Al-Qaeda as an octopus that guides terrorist action in various places worldwide. Now Al-Zawahiri and the few other core members who are still alive are forced to deal with an unexpected threat – a challenge by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, which essentially pulls the rug out from under the veteran leadership. Al-Baghdadi and ISIS continue to pay lip service to Al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda and maintain its honor. However, in practice, Al-Baghdadi has designated himself as a global leader of the jihad fighters in particular and of Muslims in general, and as a herald of the Caliphate. This crisis is expected to continue and rock the global jihad movement in the foreseeable future.
Read more at MEMRI
The Persians invented chess and that accomplishment is a strong part of the Iranian identity. By making it a choice between Assad and Al-Qaeda, they have checkmated their enemies.
BY RYAN MAURO:
Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is in a gory battle with Al-Qaeda and he’s waging it with help from his Iranian allies—but they are supporting Al-Qaeda at the same time. This contradiction is best explained by a sophisticated political strategy to position Assad as the better of two evils.
The Assad regime in Syria has a long history of supporting Islamist terrorists, including Al-Qaeda. It gave Assad the ability to wage a deniable proxy war and the ability to point to Islamist radicals for political purposes.
The violent reaction to the Mohammed cartoons in 2006 is a pristine example. The Assad regime instigated and organized the anti-Western protests that erupted in Syria. A confidential source told the U.S. that Assad was sending a message: “We are the only thing standing between you and the Islamist hordes.”
Apologists for Assad would point to Al-Qaeda’s condemnations of his rule and ideological incompatibility with his regime, but that’s the exact reason he used them. The U.S. publicly identified and sanctioned Al-Qaeda operatives in Syria that Assad refused to neutralize.
In January 2008, the U.S. government sanctioned the owner of Zawraa T.V., an anti-American propaganda station. The Treasury Department said, “Despite being publicly critical of al-Qai’da in Iraq (AQI)…[he] worked with an AQI jihadist umbrella organization.”
Immediately after the rebellion against Assad began, he played the Islamist card. One of Assad’s first reactions to the protests was to make a supposed concession by releasing 270 political prisoners. All but 14 were Islamists. He decided it was better for him that the radicals operate out in the open. He then permitted the registering of an Islamist political party run by his close friend.
The secular democratic elements of the Syrian opposition saw right through it. Riad al-Turk, a prominent opposition leader, said Assad was “trying to scare us by invoking chaos or civil war, using the threat of the Islamists taking over and arguing that our people are not yet qualified to practice democracy.”
New reports indicate Assad is still playing this Islamist card. According to The Telegraph’s Western intelligence sources, Assad has been doing business since the spring of 2013 with Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS), Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria and Iraq.
The terrorist groups are selling oil and gas from the wells they control to the regime. The terrorists are happy because they make money and the regime doesn’t blow up their oil infrastructure. Assad is happy because his forces get fuel, the terrorists protect the oil and Al-Qaeda is the face of his opposition.
But this isn’t only about Syria. This collusion with Al-Qaeda threatens the West. It means that Assad and Iran are helping terrorists carve out a safe harbor in Syria and are helping Al-Qaeda to sustain its network as a whole.
A State Department official said that this network is also “assisting in the movement of Al-Qaeda external operatives to the West.” TheLong War Journal listed three terrorist plots against the West that the Al-Qaeda network in Iran has been implicated in: A series of attacks in Europe in 2010; the planned derailment of a train going from the U.S. to Canada last year and a plan to attack the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
This is nothing new. In fact, the 9/11 Commission report concluded that many of the 9/11 hijackers transited Iran. The Iranian authorities were instructed not to stamp their passports, easing their access to Europe and the U.S. Just like today, Iran allowed Al-Qaeda an important passageway. This contributed to a judge’s ruling in 2011that Iran and Hezbollah bear responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.
The Obama Administration has long known about this network in Iran. In 2009, the Treasury Department accused Iran and Al-Qaeda of having a “secret deal.” It has been led by Yasin al-Sura since 2005, except for when al-Suri was temporarily detained by Iran because of the attention he was getting. Iran simply allowed another Al-Qaeda member to replace him. Al-Suri was recently freed.
Read more at Clarion Project
Playing the al-Qaeda card has been one of the most effective strategies utilized by the Iranian and Syrian regimes - Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
The United States Treasury Department in a report released this week has charged Iran for assisting al-Qaeda operatives based in the Islamic Republic. The charges have also been brought up because Tehran has allowed senior al-Qaeda members to conduct their operations from Iranian soil, according to the findings.
In addition, this Thursday’s allegations and accusations by the Treasury Department strongly indicated that some political figures in the Iranian government and its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been covertly and tacitly backing al-Qaeda and other opposition groups in Syria’s civil war.
According to the Treasury Department, which is introducing new sanctions targeting Iranian terror links, “today the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the designation of a key Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator who supports al-Qaeda’s vital facilitation network in Iran, that operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities.”
The report also adds, “the network also uses Iran as a transit point for moving funding and foreign fighters through Turkey to support al-Qaeda-affiliated elements in Syria, including the al-Nusra Front.”
Olimzhon Adkhamovich Sadikov— also known as Jafar al-Uzbeki and Jafar Muidinov—is characterized by the Treasury Department as an Iran-based Islamic Jihad Union facilitator. This facilitator “operates there with the knowledge of Iranian authorities,” and provides funding to al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network, along with logistical support as well.
The report has caused some confusion, primarily in the West, on how it would be possible for Iran to be supporting al-Qaeda with its other commitments in Syria? Western media, some policy analysts, politicians, scholars, and even the Treasury Department have found it difficult to offer an explanation on the possible reasons that would make Iranian leaders support al-Qaeda in Syria and in Afghanistan.
Iran’s complex game
The issue with deciphering the unclear link between Iran and al-Qaeda (or other extremist al-Qaeda linked groups such as al-Nusra and the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)), is that rational, logical analysis is mainly anchored in a binary system, whereas this situation resides in a more complex gray area.
This type of thinking has prevented many from properly analyzing Middle Eastern politics, particularly Iran’s domestic and foreign policy, with all its nuances and complicated details.
Those who are perplexed with this news, make the argument that if Iran is supporting the Assad regime, and if al-Qaeda is attempting to overthrow that regime, then Tehran cannot logically back al-Qaeda because they are on opposing sides of the conflict. Another argument comes down to religious alliances, citing that the Shiite ruling clerics in Iran are not naturally politically allied to Sunni groups.
The shortcomings of such analyses and perspectives are overlook the complicated and nuanced issues regarding Iran’s politics, rather categorizing conflicts into Sunni versus Shiite, Assad against oppositions, and so forth.
Not a bewilderment
If we take a close look at Iran’s realpolitik, its struggle for tipping the balance of power in its favor, as well as the geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic interests of the Islamic Republic, the notion that al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network has been operating for a while in Iranian soil with the assistance of IRGC forces, can be viewed as totally realistic.
Iran would allow and support al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network for several reasons. First of all, for the last three years— since the uprising erupted in Syria— both Tehran and Damascus have been playing a masterful political game with the United States and other Western powers by arguing that Assad’s regime is being targeted by terrorist enemies like al-Qaeda and its affiliations.
Playing the al-Qaeda card has been one of the most effective strategies utilized by the Iranian and Syrian regimes. According to several credible reports including Telegraph and Business Insider, in order to substantiate and bolster their arguments, Assad released the extremists and Iran provided them with the required platforms to continue this complex double game.
Reportedly, the al-Qaeda-linked groups in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, have been selling oil to the Assad regime in exchange for money and recruits with the assistance of Tehran.
Secondly, and more fundamentally, it is crucial to have a powerful extremist group on Iran’s side regardless of the religious affiliation of that group. From the Iranian leaders’ perspective, al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network can functions as powerful political leverage for the Islamic Republic over other countries in the region. al-Qaeda’s Iran-based network can be tacitly utilized in order to tip the balance of power in favor of Tehran.
Third, since the uprising erupted in Syria, the Islamic Republic has been considering other alternatives in case Assad’s apparatuses collapse. It is accurate to argue that Assad has been the staunchest geopolitical and geostrategic ally of Iran for decades, and it is also correct to point out that Tehran has been assisting Assad economically (with billions of dollars in credit), politically, through intelligence, advisory, and militarily.
But what matters for Tehran are power, geopolitics, its interests, regional hegemonic ambitions and the balance of power. Tehran will support Assad as long as it thinks that Assad can retain his power.
The moment that the regime collapses, Iran is likely to shift its political position and support any group that seems to come to power. From Iranian perspectives, the most powerful group among the oppositions in Syria are currently the al-Qaeda linked groups. As a result, having close ties with al-Qaeda is paramount for Iran in case Assad is overthrown. For now, keeping a relationship and supporting both al-Qaeda and Assad is political opportunism for Tehran.
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC, Harvard scholar, and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at email@example.com.
by Abigail R. Esman
Special to IPT News
February 14, 2014
For years she was a mother of 10 young children, keeping a good, Muslim home. Now she’s a rebel commander with a gun, fighting, she says, for her honor and her religion. Her children battle at her side.
Speaking in an on-camera interviewwith journalist Tracey Shelton, the 43-year-old muqatila, as such women soldiers are known, calls on others to join in her battle against Bashar Assad, and in the founding of a Syrian Islamic state. And though her all-female battalion numbers only 15 troops, she is by no means alone.
The role of women in the three-year-old Syrian conflict is complex and often confusing, but one thing is abundantly clear: women have become one of the strongest weapons in the war, used as much by the regime as by most of the countless rebel groups.
“Early on,” Shelton says, “women were used largely to smuggle weapons across the border in their abayas, since they are never examined at checkpoints.” But that role has changed as rebel forces have taken over most of the borders and as Syria has been ripped apart by death, torture, and terror from within.
These days, they carry their own Kalashnikovs and know how to use them. Some are well-trained snipers. And while most women continue to fulfill traditional wartime roles – cooking meals, nursing the wounded – more and more of the estimated 5,000 women known to have joined this war are on the front lines, fighting alongside men.
Many of these women have come to Syria from abroad – and the number of those women is growing, Edwin Bakker, a fellow at the International Center for Counter Terrorism in The Hague, told me in an e-mail.
Some say that the trend started with Assad’s Lionesses for National Defense, an all-female paramilitary force that the Syrian leader established in 2012. Others point towomen fighters in the Kurdish militia group Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), where one in every five fighters is a woman. And secular women – university students and professionals – have been taking part in the revolution in one way or another from the beginning in the major cities, though there is no knowing how many of those first rebels have become actual combatants. Indeed, Shelton observes, “A lot of the secular fighters who started the revolution have had to flee because they are afraid of Al Qaeda and ISIS, (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).”
But the presence of women fighters among Islamist groups is new, and while few in number, represent a disturbing development: women who are willing to violate the very principles of Sharia to build a Sharia state for the future.
Abigail R. Esman, the author, most recently, of Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West (Praeger, 2010), is a freelance writer based in New York and the Netherlands.