The Truth About Al Qaeda Infiltration in Syria
The Washington Post called Senator Ron Johnson's question about the Syrian rebels, and Kerry's answer (which Vladimir Putin called a huge lie) one of the 10 most interesting moments in Tuesday's Senate hearing on Syria.
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-Wis.): What — what do we know about the opposition? … It seems like, initially, the opposition was maybe more Western-leaning, more moderate, more democratic. You know, as time has gone by, it’s degraded, become more infiltrated by Al Qaida. …
KERRY: No, that is actually basically not true. It is basically incorrect. The opposition has increasingly become more defined by its moderation, more defined by the breadth of its membership and more defined by its adherence to some, you know, democratic process and to an all-inclusive, minority-protecting constitution, which will be broad-based and secular with respect to the future of Syria.
From what I've been hearing - contra what Kerry said - the Syrian opposition has become increasingly defined by its extremism, which is why many conservatives have been lamenting that we didn't help the rebels years ago - before the foreign jihadis flowed in. What I hear is that they have infested most of the rebel groups - (7 out of the 9 largest according to Ted Cruz.)
Maybe the numbers seem distorted because stories about the moderate rebels just aren't as sensational as ones about al Qaeda affiliated rebels (who do things like raid Christian villages, behead all the passengers on a train including a mother and her baby, and cut out and eat the hearts out of Regime soldiers.)
So I've been doing a little research of my own to see if the reports of al Qaeda's involvement in Syria have been overblown. From what I can see - they have not.
On Tuesday, The Guardian's Middle East editor Ian Black answered readers' questions about Syria. Here is his answer (in part) to the following questions; "how many different opposition parties exist in Syria? Which party is representing which interests, what goals do they have, and who are the supporting parties? To what extent are they infiltrated by al-Qaida or not?"
Nowadays the main political grouping is the Syrian National Coalition, set up in Qatar in 2012, again with Gulf backing. The main legal internal opposition is the Damascus-based National Co-ordination Body, which calls for a negotiated settlement with the Assad regime.
There are now hundreds and perhaps thousands of armed rebel groups. More moderate outfits such as Liwa al-Tawhid answer to the Supreme Military Command, headed by Selim Idriss, a senior army defector. The SMC is used to channel Gulf, especially Saudi, funds and is thought to have received US and British training in Jordan.
Islamist groups have become stronger and tend to be better armed and financed than others. Two of the strongest are Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq, both of them linked to al-Qaida. JAN insists on a future Syria becoming an Islamic state under sharia law, and has openly pledged its allegiance to the al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Another important group is Ahrar al-Sham. Sectarianism is also becoming more pronounced, with foreign Arab Shia fighters (including Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah) arriving to fight Sunni extremists. Large numbers of liberal and secular opposition figures have left the country. Important work is still done on the ground by the Local Co-ordination Committees.
The Guardian reported back in July that Al-Qaida had "turned the tide" for rebels in battle for eastern Syria.
As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder's men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.
But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba'a, or "strangers", after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden's time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.
They try to hide their presence. "Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags," said Abu Khuder. "They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?" But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.
It was reported on Tuesday that the British intelligence community had assessed that al Qaeda and other jihadists in Syria have become “the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West.”
This assessment was revealed in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which was released in July. The committee, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has oversight over all British intelligence agencies as well as Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). The report covered the committee's work and conclusions from July 2012 through June 2013.
“The Agencies and JTAC assess that Al-Qaeda elements and individual jihadists in Syria currently represent the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West,” said the report in a section titled, "The Agencies' Assessment of the Threat."
“There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against Western targets,” the report continued.
And John Kerry's State Department has issued a US travel warning: Al Qaeda-Affiliated Syrian Rebels Have 'Claimed Nearly 600 Attacks'.
“Large numbers of radicalized individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the UK and Europe,” the report said. “They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home. Furthermore, there is growing concern about the risks around extremist groups in Syria gaining access to regime stocks of chemical weapons.”
...the State Department is maintaining a travel warning advising Americans not to travel to Syria because the al-Nusrah Front, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria--which is participating in the rebellion seeking to overthrow Assad--has carried out about 600 attacks in the country since November 2011.
These al Qaeda terrorist attacks, according to the State Department, have killed many Syrian civilians.
Secretary of State John Kerry of all people should know the rebel fighters have become "more infiltrated" by al Qaeda as time has gone by. The rebels have not been "increasingly more defined by their moderation" etc as he said.
I'm sorry to say it, but I have to agree with Putin on this one.