Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad echoed Russian doubts about the death of Islamic State “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an extensive interview published Friday, attributing most American political developments to “Hollywood.”
The regime-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) published Assad’s interview in full, which touches on, among other topics, the al-Baghdadi raid, his opinion of President Donald Trump, a potential hot war with Turkey, and his hope to integrate Kurdish groups into his regime.
President Trump announced that American forces surrounded al-Baghdadi at a secret compound outside Idlib, Syria, last weekend. When al-Baghdadi found himself captured, he ran into a dead-end cave with two of his children and detonated a suicide bomb vest, killing all three. Only one American troop, a canine officer, was injured touching a livewire, according to the Pentagon, but has since returned to duty.
“He died after running into a dead-end tunnel, whimpering and crying and screaming all the way,” Trump said. “These savage monsters will not escape their fate, and they will not escape the final judgment of God.”
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the majority-Kurdish militia responsible for taking ISIS down in its “capital,” Raqqa, was reportedly responsible for extracting from Islamic State jihadists the intelligence necessary to find al-Baghdadi. Trump thanked them, as well as Turkey, Russia, and Syria for their participation in the operation.
Assad told friendly Syrian media that he did not understand why Trump thanked his dictatorship.
“Maybe, the reason behind including a number of countries as participants in this operation is to give it credibility so these countries will feel not embarrassed, but have the desire to be that they are part of a ‘great’ operation, as the Americans have tried to portray it. And in this way, they are credited with fighting terrorism,” Assad speculated. “We do not need such credit. We are the ones fighting terrorism. We have no relations and have had no contact with any American institutions.”
Assad claimed that “we do not really know whether the operation” to capture Baghdadi occurred, proposing that the American government fabricated the raid:
No aircraft were detected on radar screens. Why were the remains of Baghdadi not shown? This is the same scenario that was followed with [al-Qaeda leader Osama] Bin Laden. If there are going to use different pretexts in order not to show the remains, let us recall how President Saddam Husain was captured and how the whole operation was shown from A to Z; they showed pictures and video clips after they captured him. The same happened when they killed his sons several months later; they showed the bodies. So, why did they hide everything about the Bin Laden operation and now also the Baghdadi operation? This is part of the tricks played by the Americans. That is why we should not believe everything they say unless they come up with evidence.
American politicians are actually guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.
Assad echoed his patron Russia’s claims that the evidence the Pentagon has made available on the al-Baghdadi raid is not enough to prove it happened.
“Russia’s defense ministry has no reliable information about an operation by US forces in the Turkey-controlled part of the Idlib de-escalation zone aimed at another extermination of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said last week.
Russia claimed to have killed al-Baghdadi in 2017, a claim widely mocked and ignored by the Islamic State itself. This time, the Islamic State confirmed al-Baghdadi’s death and announced a successor: Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi. Authorities have not yet definitively identified al-Hashimi or if the name is a pseudonym for a terrorist previously known by another name.
The Pentagon released photos and video of the al-Baghdadi raid this week. As al-Baghdadi blew himself up, there was no body to show the world as evidence of his death, though the Pentagon confirmed that DNA tests identified the deceased as the terrorist chief.
This was not enough for Assad, who dismissed the raid as “Hollywood” fabrications.
“American politics are no different from Hollywood; it relies on the imagination. Not even science fiction, just mere imagination. So, you can take American politics and see it in Hollywood or else you can bring Hollywood and see it through American politics. I believe the whole thing regarding this operation is a trick,” Assad said.
He added that he believed al-Baghdadi was a U.S. government asset and it was possible the same man could resurface “under a different name” to attack Syria: “The director of the whole scenario is the same, the Americans.”
Assad went on to say that Turkey’s invasion of Syria, which Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dubbed “Operation Peace Spring,” is also an American conspiracy, since “NATO is the same thing as America.”
“We should not bet on any American President,” Assad said. “First, when Erdogan says that he decided to make an incursion or that they told the Americans, he is trying to project Turkey as a superpower or to pretend that he makes his own decisions; all these are theatrics shared between him and the Americans.”
The Syrian dictator then complimented President Trump “not because his policies are good, but because he is the most transparent president”:
All American presidents perpetrate all kinds of political atrocities and all crimes and yet still win the Nobel Prize and project themselves as defenders of human rights and noble and unique American values, or Western values in general. The reality is that they are a group of criminals who represent the interests of American lobbies, i.e. the large oil and arms companies, and others. Trump talks transparently, saying that what we want is oil. This is the reality of American policy, at least since WWII. We want to get rid of such and such a person or we want to offer a service in return for money. This is the reality of American policy. What more do we need than a transparent opponent? That is why the difference is in form only, while the reality is the same.
Assad appeared to be referencing Trump’s remarks that, despite withdrawal from Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava), American soldiers would stay in some regions to protect the nation’s oil fields.
The Syrian dictator also threatened an all-out war with Turkey, as clashes between the Syrian Arab Army and the Turkish military in northern Syria have already begun. Assad and Erdogan regularly call each other terrorists, but in this interview, Assad settled for “thief.”
“I said that he was a thief, and from the first days he started stealing everything related to Syria. So, he is a thief,” Assad said. “I was not calling him names; I was describing him. … He is a thief, there is no other name. Previously in my speech before the People’s Assembly, I said that he is a political thug. He exercises this political thuggery on the largest scale. He lies to everyone, blackmails everyone. He is a hypocrite and publicly so.”
Assad concluded that he could not similarly threaten war against the United States because the American army would crush him.
“I am not going to indulge in heroics and say that we will send the army to face the Americans. We are talking about a superpower,” he said. “Do we have the capabilities to do that? I believe that this is clear for us as Syrians.”