Syria: The al-Qaeda Element?

According to the New York Times, the “power vacuum” in the Middle East that has led to the rise of “extremists,” and which led to current events in the region is due to the absence of a strong American role in the Middle East. The article goes on to say that this “power vacuum” has led to the rise of “Islamic fanatics,” adding that “the entire region is threatened with chaos.”

Does Islam have anything to do with the current chaos in Syria? You decide …

Burhan Ghalioun, a political thinker and prior president of the Syrian National Council (SNC) from August, 2011 to June, 2012, does not subscribe to the “power vacuum” theory. Mr. Ghalioun subscribes to the theory that Arabs and societies are held hostage by two authorities: dictators and clerics. Ghalioun says “arrogant dictators are inhumane in their opposition to liberties, and in their crushing and humiliation of individuals [and their desire for freedom of choice].” He also says, “Clerics have become the shapers of public opinion, and these clerics have no knowledge of society or public policy.” (Source: Facebook Burhan Ghalioun)

The power of dictatorship in Syria is maintained by raising “one class within society,” the Alawites, “against all other classes.” The regime “uses a philosophy of tyranny” as the basis of rule, and this philosophy has been passed down from father to son. They have maintained an upper hand due to the “absence of the rules, values, policy and ethics” which are the basis of any legitimate government.

Nearly 2,400 years ago, the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle explored political philosophy and developed important ideas about tyranny and the rule of law. They determined “tyranny occurs when absolute power is ‘granted’ to a ruler. In a tyrannical government, the ruler becomes corrupt and uses his power to further his own interests instead of working for the common good.” Where rule of law is the principle, no one is exempt, even those in positions of power. “Rule of law can serve as a safeguard against tyranny, because just laws ensure that rulers do not become corrupt.”

While “governing by tyranny” has been the norm in the Middle East and Africa, the coming of the Arab Spring is a message telling tyrannical rulers … “Dictators be warned – Your time is up.” The Syrian Revolution is the voice of the people telling Assad that his “time is up.”

Just when the International Community thinks the “Syria Situation” can’t get any worse, it does. Observers watch in distress as horrifying acts continue to be carried out by the regime.

Assad has developed a hierarchy of horribles in such a way that the “Responsibility to Protect,” (R2P) falls on the International Community. However, as Russia and China has effectively used “the UN Security Council veto” to hold the rational world in paralysis, the Assad Regime continues to ratchet up the hierarchy of horribles. The “tools” have escalated from ground war using security forces and shabiha, to air wars with barrel bombs, and al-Qaeda skirmishes as a powerful diversion.

Most recently, Syrians have been faced with two enemies. There is viable evidence that Assad has twisted the war-scape one more time in his favor by inviting al-Qaeda into Syria. ISIL has moved in and established themselves throughout northern Syria. They have recruited members by promises of food and pay, even putting weapons in the hands of children as young as 12 years old.

Once they secured the trust of the people, ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS, became more aggressive in taking over land and punishing people who didn’t comply with their will. As expected, the FSA and Islamic Front took up arms against ISIS to drive this bad element out of Syria, which weakened their effort to fight against Assad.

Nehad Ismail, a well-respected London-based specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, made several very interesting points in his recent article in the Huffington Post about Assad’s relationship with ISIL.

According to Middle Eastern press reports; the Iraqi Minister of Justice “Hassan al Shammari accused high ranking officials in Iraq of allowing al Qaeda prisoners to escape to Syria to beef up Al Qaeda in Syria, to help the Syrian regime and to frighten the US and UK governments.”

The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said on Thursday 9th January “the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) emerged only when the Syrian opposition groups gained ground in Syria’s north.” “There is a behind-the-scene partnership between them [ISIL] and the regime,” the foreign minister was quoted as saying by state news agency Anadolu in its website.

The relationship between al Qaeda and the Syrian regime is not new.

In September 2007, U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, twelve miles from the Syrian border, discovered computers and a cache of documents that included the records of more than 600 foreign fighters who had infiltrated into Iraq between spring 2006 and summer 2007.

The documents show Syrian involvement in facilitating the entry of jihadists/Islamic terrorists into Iraq to frustrate what the Syrian regime dubbed as the “American Project in Iraq.” It is a known fact that the Syrian regime has been manipulating al Qaeda to its own advantage. During the occupation of Iraq particularly the period 2003 – 2010 Syria had been actively facilitating the entry of Al Qaeda jihadists to destabilize Iraq and kill American soldiers. They also killed thousands of Iraqis in the process. Later, at the behest of Iran and Syria, al Qaeda carried out operations in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the USA.

Syria’s Islamic Front sends a strong warning to Al-Qaeda’s ISIL, “We fight against whoever attacks us and whoever pushes us to battle, whether they are Syrian [Assad Regime] or foreign [ISIS].”

ISIS has left massacres in town after town as they are pushed back. Thirty people in Raqqa including a doctor from Aleppo on the weekend on January 5th, then in Aleppo, fifty Syrian Activists summarily executed in the Eye Specialist Hospital which was an ISIS Center, but it didn’t stop there. The fight has gone from Aleppo to Idlib, Hama and beyond. And all the time, Assad is attacking other targets such as circling back to Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported, “From January 3 to 11, the fighting killed 697 people, among them 351 rebel fighters, 246 members of the ISIL and 100 civilians.”

According to a Syrian Activist in Idlib on 1/12/2013, “Idlib is pretty quiet.” Maan News reports that they have information from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that hundreds of ISIL fighters were holed up in their base in Saraqeb in Idlib, a day after rebels captured most of the town.

Another Activist, Firas Ahmad, told the Daily Star, “The Islamic State [ISIS] is pulling out [of Idlib] without a fight. Its fighters are taking their weapons and heavy guns.” He added that the ISIS fighters headed in the direction of Aleppo, where Assad’s troops have stepped up pressure on rebel forces who captured the city 18 months ago.

Al-Qaeda Like A Cancer That Isn’t Easily Eradicated

ISIL has no intention of leaving Syria. They aren’t going to leave without a fight. They may have pulled out of Idlib without a fight, they were only regrouping and planning the recapture of Raqqa. This was the town where they previously left more than 30 people massacred as they left on their way out the prior week. Aljazeera reported that during the fight to recapture Raqqa, ISIL executed Abu Saad al-Hadram of Al-Nusra, who was their al-Qaeda competitor’s Raqqa commander.

ISIL recaptured the town of Tel Abyad on the border with Turkey over the weekend. According to the Syrian Revolution Coordinating Union, Turkish authorities closed a border crossing near the town and pulled out the facility’s staff. ISIL executed by a gunshot to the head at least 70 fighters from al-Nusra and the FSA. According to Aljazeera, their bodies were collected and taken to the National Hospital in Raqqa.

Abdallah Farraj, a member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition from Raqqa, said rebels had been “able to expel ISIL from parts of the neighboring Aleppo province, but it would be hard to shake ISIL’s hold on Raqqa and rural areas along key supply lines across the north.”

It has also been said that some Syrian ISIL fighters had stayed in place in Idlib in order to switch allegiance to the Nusra Front (aka al-Nusra or JAN). However, switching alliance from ISIS to al-Nusra is still sticking with the same organization as al-Nusra has ties to al-Qaeda in Iraq as well.

There is one battalion however that has left ISIS for the FSA and has sworn off any further dealings with al-Qaeda. In this video, the battalion leader explains why his group has made a conscious decision to abandon all al-Qaeda groups including JAN.

Al-Nusra has been listed as a terrorist organization in the United States; although at least some Syrians say al-Nusra is much less radical than ISIS. One activist told me, “JAN doesn’t use car bombs, they don’t execute civilians, and they aren’t trying to create an Islamic State.” He went on to say, “Nusra’s commanders are mostly Syrian rather than foreign and it is willing to coordinate militarily with the Islamic Front.”

Al-Nusra has certainly blurred the lines between “I am a Syrian brother” and “I am al-Qaeda,” however, as the opposition has demonstrated over and over they will not sacrifice Freedom and the lives of their martyrs for al-Qaeda operatives.

On CBS Face the Nation on January 12th, commentators discussed the issue of the growing al-Qaeda risk in the Middle East. The commentators who were all experts in Middle East Policy or Middle East Relations agreed that “the United States’ ambivalent policy in the Middle East,” was a huge contributing factor to:

  • Al-Qaeda safe havens throughout the region
  • Al-Qaeda in Iraq
  • Al-Qaeda in Syria
  • Al-Qaeda in Yemen
  • 135,000 dead in Syria
  • 2.5 million refugees from Syria
  • 6.0 million displaced in Syria
  • This statement goes back to the New York Times theory of a “power vacuum” in the Middle East that has led to the rise of “extremists.”


    The conclusion of this is shown in the following equation:

    (absence of the rules,values,policy,and ethics)/(power of tyranny@) x (al-Qaeda)/(Power Vacuum)

    = (Syrian Genocide)/(Assad Regime) = Syrian War

    Kimberly Jones
    Kimberly Jones is a global nomad with a special interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled throughout the MENA growing deeply attached to the people and the culture.