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Syria Uprising and the Rise of Extremism: The Future Base of Al Qaeda!

Interesting Article: "Syria and the Limits of Pretension" by Michael Brenner /
Huffington Post, published Tuesday, December 18th, 2012.

 An interesting article mentioned that Syria weighs heavily on Washington's mind. For good reason. The protracted civil war is offering vivid demonstration of how limited is American influence on the turbulent politics of the Middle East post-Arab Spring. We cannot identify in this free-for-all a contender for the laurels who shares our perspective or our values -- and who has a fair chance of coming out on top. Sectarian passions among Sunnis, Alawites, Druze and Kurds are the main driving force. The secular minded, more or less liberal elites who initially represented the opposition, the Syrian National Council based in Istanbul, have been reduced to being just one among several factions pursuing agendas that coincide only in their dedication to unseating Assad.

Would you like to know the latest from Syria?

Washington is hyper-sensitive to any Sunni Salafist group that it suspects of affinities to one of the al-Qaeda franchises. Such jihadi elements that harbor the United States ill will are present in Syria where they play a significant if immeasurable combat role. Hence, the State Department's action on December 10 designating the most prominent of the jihadist formation, Jaghat al-Nusra, a "terrorist organization." In practical terms, the designation means that the Obama administration will take steps to isolate it diplomatically while seeking to deny it material or financial assistance. That amounts to encouraging their supporters and sympathizers in the Gulf to follow suit. The likelihood of their doing so is slight since there are intricate political interests and religious associations at play.

Moreover, Jaghat al-Nusra is but one of a dozen jihadist groups active in the opposition front. It is described as "not Syria's largest jihadi group, but certainly the best known, and the one most likely to gain official approval by al-Qaeda... and is clearly seen by most of the global salafi-jihadi community as "their" group in Syria. " (Aron Lund, "Syrian Jihadism," Swedish Institute of International Affairs September 2012) It competes as well with the Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, which have been playing a savvy political game of participating in the SNC (now superseded by the umbrella Syrian Opposition Council) while protecting their fundamentalist credentials among Islamist factions.

Therefore, the question should be asked: Has Syria become Al-Qaeda's new base for terror strikes on Europe?

The terror network in Syria includes dozens of European members, and wants to get its hands on Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons. For example, a photograph from Syria shows a large man in fighting garb, carrying an assault rifle. His head is wrapped in black cloth, and the sign on his armband indicates beyond a doubt that he is an Islamist. But the man is not Syrian; he identifies himself as "holy warrior Abu Ahmad al-Almani" from Germany. ccording to a Die Welt investigation, the fighter from Germany is only one of hundreds of foreigners who have associated with Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime. Most of them are young men from North Africa, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. But more and more Europeans are joining the militia fighters. Western intelligence agencies believe that there are some 100 Muslims with European passports involved in the war in Syria, Die Welt has learned. A great many of these are fighters, some are radical Islamists, and see it as their duty to join the “Holy War” against the Syrian strongman. German intelligence views the travel of radical Muslims to Syria with concern. The assumption is that most of them plan to take up fighting against government troops.

Yet, According to the standpoint of intelligence agents, the situation of the Syrian opposition remains highly opaque. According to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) – the German intelligence service – the biggest problem for foreign jihadists is the chaotic situation of countless warring parties, citizens’ militias, and rebel groups. Only very few Islamists coming in from Europe know anything about the group they join up with, or what that group’s ideology and goals actually are.

The most radical of the rebel groups is probably Jabat al-Nusra, which has a jihadist orientation and wants to create a theocracy in Syria. Jabat al-Nusra is considered to be a regional branch of al-Qaeda, but the group -- which is said to have about 1,000 fighters -- has deliberately avoided official affiliation with the terror network so far, for reasons of image and strategy. Intelligence operatives believe that Jabat al-Nusra doesn’t want to give Assad fodder to nourish his claims that the opposition consists of al-Qaeda fighters. Western intelligence operatives say that al-Nusra runs several large training camps in Syria where Islamists with fighting experience – veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – train new recruits, including Islamists from Western countries. In a situation similar to the al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in the 1990s, hundreds of Islamists are presently being trained in the use of fire arms, bomb-making and hand-to-hand combat in Syrian camps managed by Jabat al-Nusra.

Al-Qaeda boss Ayman al-Zawahiri is focusing his efforts on Syria and Egypt, trying to build new structures in these two key countries since many of the established al-Qaeda offshoots no longer listen to the network's leadership after the death of Osama Bin Laden, according to information from Western intelligence sources. According to intelligence sources, several al-Qaeda leaders who were originally from Egypt have returned there after years of fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Other leaders and active members have been released from prison by the Morsi government. The al-Qaeda cell in Egypt is thought to have been involved in the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Particularly worrying for the West are al-Qaeda efforts to get their hands on chemical and biological weapons. Local al-Qaeda operatives have allegedly already been told to find out where these weapons are stockpiled. Intelligence sources also say that al-Qaeda is looking for experts in Syria to train their fighters in how to use the weapons.

Al-Qaeda’s efforts are said to be focused mainly around Deraa in the southwestern part of the country, and Aleppo, where its HQ is thought to be located. For future attacks in Europe, extremists with European passports are particularly valuable – men like the Spaniard Rachid Wahbi who arrived in Syria via Turkey in June 2012 headed for a training camp for European fighters, or Mehdi al-Harati, a Libyan with an Irish passport. He was one of the founders of the Tripoli Brigade, the first rebel unit in Libya. He now leads the rebels in the north of Syria.

According to Western intelligence sources, al-Nusra commander Abu Mohammad al-Julani is already planning to expand his base of operations to Europe via Turkey. He’s preparing to make Syria – after the fall of the Assad regime – a center of jihadist activity with branches in other countries.

It has been noted that so far Jabat al-Nusra has avoided using European fighters in suicide missions. Apparently these fighters are too valuable to “burn” right now – their European passports will come in good stead when the fighting in Syria is over and the terror network enters a Europe-oriented expansion phase.

In my opinion, We know for sure that the situation of instability which is taking grip in Syria for many months now has created avenues and channels for Al Qaeda affiliates and groups to contribute to this instability and to try to also use their methods to fight against the Al-Assad’s regime. What we don’t know is exactly the number and also the organizations of the Al Qaeda in Syria. Some people say that they are coming from Iraq or Yemen directly, from outside Syria to fight against Al-Assad.

Definitely at this moment, in which all the efforts are focused to bring the regime of Al-Assad to an end the fact that there are Al Qaeda affiliates or groups which are kind of extremist is definitely part of this picture. And the Syrian population, as I said, is more inclined to accept their help because sometimes there are among the best trained and they possess weapons to be able to wage these attacks. At the same time what we have to make sure is that the new organizations, like the Syrian opposition coalition, which will probably take the power and will start the process of transition once Al-Assad relinquishes his power, we have to make sure that it is not mingled with these organizations.

So, on the one hand the struggle on the ground inevitable will see the contribution from these groups because it is not possible to close the borders, it is not possible to control the situation. And also given the shortage of weapons it is not possible that the Syrian population and the Syrian opposition will be able to give the final blow to the Al-Assad’s regime without this contribution. But on the other hand, the political transition should start with taking these groups outside the formal organizations which will lead the transition itself.

Interesting a UAE newspaper talked about the leader of Jabhat Al Nusra, the article is great look into the mind of these extremists. The article goes on to say, that reclining on a pillow in an otherwise empty room, the burly, 41-year-old commander of Jabhat Al Nusra - the most fearsome jihadi group in Syria - exuded an almost disturbing calm, in marked contrast to the loud, chatty air that often characterizes more mainstream groups of the Free Syrian Army.

The man, who calls himself Sheikh Abu Ahmed (see picture above of him and his team) and said he was the military commander of Jabhat Al Nusra in the Hasakah governorate of eastern Syria, spoke to The National in the north-eastern town of Ras el Ayn, where fighting between Islamist rebels and the Kurdish PYD party has killed dozens of militants in recent weeks. Dressed in plain clothes, Abu Ahmed outlined his group's vision for a new Syria. "Our first goal is to get rid of Assad. Then we want a state where the Quran is the only source of law," he said. "Sharia is the right path for all humanity - all other laws make people unhappy."

Jabhat Al Nusra's fighters are often praised by other rebels for their bravery. Yet it is also feared and even despised by many Syrians, including religious minorities and Sunnis with more moderate views, for its methods and unapologetic vision. Some even fear a future clash between the moderates and the Salafists.

Sitting in an unheated room furnished with only a carpet and a few pillows, Abu Ahmed described a new Syria, where alcohol and tobacco would be banned. "These rules will be introduced gradually. We will advise people at first," he said when this journalist pointed out that enforcing such a law would be difficult in a country where smoking is so widespread.

Cinema and "immoral" TV shows would also be banned. "They corrupt the morals, especially of young people. Just look at the West," he said, adding that he had recently read in a magazine that in Germany, only 10 per cent of women were virgins by the time they got married. Wouldn't the young be angry at such measures? "Perhaps they will be. But they will get used to it eventually," Abu Ahmed said.

Abu Ahmed's mild, friendly manner and relaxed delivery contrasted sharply with the dourness of his vision. He seemed to enjoy the discussion and being challenged. When asked if his ultra-conservative vision would not cause Syria to fall behind in a world dominated by scientific rationalism and liberal capitalism, he smiled and said: "If so, then that is fine. You can have this world and we will have the next."

Jabhat Al Nusra has parallels with Al Qaeda and has been endorsed by it as the purest Islamist group in Syria. Abu Ahmed claimed his group had no links to Al Qaeda and stressed that their goals were purely Syrian. "We will respect everybody who respects us," he said.

But he also expressed sympathy with Al Qaeda. "I like them because they are mujahidin who want to apply Sharia," he said. He added that the killing of civilians is acceptable as long as it's a response to a similar attack. Jabhat Al Nusra is also linked to at least one execution of captured Syrian soldiers, a probable war crime, and beheadings of suspected spies.

The emergence of such extremist groups has greatly concerned some of Syria's minorities, such as the Christians and the Alawites, many of whom still support the Assad government as a result. Abu Ahmed said the minorities had nothing to fear, pointing to a long history of Christian presence in Muslim countries. "As for the Kurds, they will have no need for autonomy - they are Muslims, too, so we can live together," he said.

Abu Ahmed admitted that there were foreign fighters in his group - mostly from other Arab countries - but he said they were only a very small minority. Analysts say that many of its fighters are veterans of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. He said they took no financing from external powers and that their weapons were either self-purchased or ghanima - war spoils. The ICG report suggests that they probably receive money from private donors with jihadist sympathies, mainly in the region.

Abu Ahmed worked as a bus driver before the war. He said he'd always been very religious and as a result had problems with the security services. "We joined the demonstrations in the very beginning but only took up arms when they started shooting at us," he said. "Our faith is very strong and we're not afraid of death, of becoming martyrs. This is what drives us, what makes us brave. We will not stop until the regime falls. And I advise all my people to be good Muslims to help win this war."

Yet, I leave 2012 with this comment, what happens after the regime falls and the people of Syria that do not fall into the extremist's idea of a "good Muslim"? Then what will we have created? The future Taliban is in the midst of rising, we should not turn a blind eye to these extremists. The minute victory is near, these guys should be taken out. 



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