July 16th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

Syria's al Qaeda boomerang

Since the start of the uprising in Syria there has been great concern about al Qaeda in Iraq infiltrating the Syrian opposition groups to unseat the Syrian government. Though not considered present in large numbers, it is one reason cited by U.S. officials for resistance to arming Syrian rebels.  The Syrian government

But for Syria's leadership, al Qaeda's work against the Bashar al-Assad regime is a boomerang.  In an interview with CNN's Ivan Watson, the highest level government official to defect described further how Damascus has collaborated with al Qaeda since the U.S. invasion of Iraq.  Former Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al Fares said Syria "coordinated" with al Qaeda because they were threatened by the U.S. invasion:

IVAN WATSON:  The Syrian government often accuses the opposition of being members of al Qaeda, terrorists, and yet Syria was accused for many years of allowing jihadis and Al Qaeda to cross through Syria to Iraq to carry out suicide bombings.  You had to represent Syria in Iraq.  Some people say it’s a cruel irony that now Syria’s being hit by suicide bombs, the kind that were seen in Baghdad?

NAWAF AL FARES: It’s lying. In 2003 after the American invasion of Iraq and the toppling of the Iraqi regime, the Syrian regime felt threatened.  So they coordinated with Al Qaeda.  They had an agreement to keep the road open to Iraq.  So militants started coming from all over the world through Syria, under the eyes of the Syrian secret police who are directly responsible for the killing of thousands of Iraqis and Americans and coalition forces.

Al Qaeda was an ally of Bashar al Assad after 2003.  He trained and provided shelter and built safe havens for Al Qaeda to hide in.

I remember one of those safe havens was in al Sukariya in Abu Kamal. The Americans raided it [in 2008] and captured prisoners.  This was a hiding place for Al Qaeda on the border with Iraq. And it was under the control of Assif Shawkat, the brother in law of the president.

WATSON: You saw with your own eyes that Assif Shawkat was leading this Al Qaeda in Iraq operation?

FARES:  One hour after the raid, Assif Shawkat was there at the location.  A conversation took place between me and him… And he was angry about the attack made against Al Sukariya, and he was kind of scared.

The Al Qaeda in Syria and the one that worked in Iraq have a strong relationship with Bashar al Assad.  But he scares the West by showing them that the only successor to the regime in Syria would be Al Qaeda.  And he scares the Syrian people that if he leaves, Al Qaeda will come.

A senior U.S. official told CNN that Fares' claim is "broadly consistent with our understanding" of the Syrian regime's cooperation with al Qaeda "elements":

Since 2003, Asad allowed al-Qa’ida and associates to facilitate weapons, money and fighters to al-Qa’ida’s Iraq based affiliate, setting the conditions for those same elements to shift from Syria-based facilitation to active attacks – this time focused against the Asad regime.

This emerging al-Qa’ida operational presence in country bolsters our own argument that the sooner Asad leaves, the better.  The faster the Syrian people are able to transition away from his regime, the faster they will be able to begin establishing the kind of open, democratic society that is anathema to both al-Qa’ida and Asad.

The present al-Qa’ida linked effort in Syria appears to be a small one and not at all representative of the broader Syrian opposition or Syrian people; in fact, we have seen oppositionists openly reject al-Qa’ida and its indiscriminate tactics.

Filed under: Al Qaeda • Assad • Iraq • Middle East • Syria • Terrorism
soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. captain syphilis

    Kill assad

    Montgomery is awesome

    July 18, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply
  2. US Dollars

    The Syrian resistance will make a deal with the devil to help them against Assad. What they don't know is that there is a price to pay later for doing so. It's not like the terrorists will just leave when the fighting is over.

    July 17, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
  3. Matt

    Beirut 1983. ASSAD, ASS, SAD, SAD.
    Don't choke that just your country I have stuck down your throat.

    July 17, 2012 at 12:32 am | Reply
  4. c s

    Nothing about the Middle East should surprise anyone by now. What a can of worms. Keeping US troops in the Middle East is an invitation to another war. Talking about any Muslim government being in cahoots with terrorists as though it is a surprise is absurd. So called American ally Saudi Arabia was the home to most of the 9/11 terrorists but the Saudi regime pretends to be surprised by it. Bin Laden was the leader of Al-Qa’ida and he was born in Saudi Arabia. The US has been played as a sucker by all of these Muslim countries. Just look at how Pakistan, another "ally" of the US, provided refuge for Bin Laden.

    Republican Ron Paul understands that the US should stop being the world cop. Currently the US spends $200 to $300 billion per year defending the Persian Gulf so that Europe and Asia can get Middle East oil without doing a thing. Let Europe and Asia defend the Persian Gulf and its oil. Imagine how much good that the $200 to $300 billion would do in the US instead of defending Saudi Arabia. Since 2000, that would have provided between $2 and $3 trillion to fund solar and wind energy production in the US. This would be energy produced in the US for the US. Solar and wind energy can be converted into hydrogen gas that could be piped all over the US. This hydrogen gas could be used to power electric plants all over the country. The electricity can be used in electric cars to cut oil consumption.

    Romney wants to start another war with Iran just like the one in Iraq. The Iraq war cost over a trillion dollars and cause tens of thousands of military wounded that will need to be cared for another 50 years. So the cost of the Iraq war will continue far into the future and will be trillions more. A war with Iran would be even more costly. No one know what it would cost but it will be in the trillions. All so that the oil companies can make more money.

    July 16, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  5. Keith

    George Patton... YOU BLOW SMOKE.

    July 16, 2012 at 9:09 pm | Reply
  6. George Patton

    The Assad regime collaborating with Al Qaeda in Syria? Now we heard everything!!! Those bureaucrats in Washington will say anything to inflame American public opinion against the Assad regime. In fact, most Al Qaeda operatives in Iraq have already been slaughtered by the gigantic U.S. military machine including all their leaders, so don't believe in ghosts too much!

    July 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
    • JLM

      Patton, you are an idiot!

      July 16, 2012 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  7. Exchange

    Exchange one Towel Head for another Towel Head.

    July 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.