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Syria: Utilizing Al Qaeda | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A Free Syrian army fighter takes cover as he shoots near Al Neirab airport in Aleppo February 17, 2013. REUTERS/Hamid Khatib

This must have been one of the few instances in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been able to laugh; namely after watching members of a Syrian extremist group on an Arab television channel pledging, or rather threatening, to establish a radical Islamist regime to replace his own. This interview was more than enough to frighten the already hesitant and anxious countries, confirming the stories put forward by the Assad regime. These stories, in turn, were backed by Russian politicians, who have said that the West will regret overthrowing the Damascus regime as this represents a repeat of the same mistake made in Afghanistan and will ultimately result in a new war being waged, but this time to fight Al Qaeda in Syria. Simultaneously, we see the French today waging one of their largest African military campaigns in northern Mali to fight extremist groups there.

There can be no doubt that the West, in addition to some Arabs, are afraid that the Syrian revolution will turn into another Afghanistan especially in light of the flow of jihadists into the country to take part in the combat. Therefore, instead of supporting the Syrian rebels and putting an end to the Assad regime’s crimes, they are merely watching the fighting and monitoring these extremist groups.

The Syrian regime wants the West to accept the idea that the Assad regime is a guarantor for stability and a safety valve against the threat of these terrorist groups. Unfortunately, these terrorist groups do exist; some of them were formed by the Assad regime itself for this specific purpose, whilst Damascus is also publicizing and propagating the actions and threat represented by other groups to create fear regarding the possibility of another Afghanistan.

The regime previously used precisely the same tactic when facing intense international pressure following its crimes in Lebanon. In November 2008, Syria claimed-via the official state news agency SANA-that the extremist Fatah al-Islam organization detonated a car-bomb in Damascus.

The SANA report also claimed that Lebanon’s anti-Syrian Future Movement was behind this terrorist organization and that the suicide bomber who carried out this operation was a Saudi national! Of course, nobody believed this Syrian lie because the Lebanese Future Movement-represented at the time by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora-had led the war against Fatah al-Islam at the Nahr al-Bared camp.

You can be sure that some members of extremist groups in Syria were specifically released from Assad’s prisons to swell their movement’s ranks and take part in the fighting. The presence of these groups is meant to serve as proof that the revolution is led by terrorist groups, some of whom in reality are affiliate to Al Qaeda and want to raise the terrorist organization’s black flag over Syria. However, the vast majority of Syria’s rebels belong to the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and the al-Assad regime wants to defame their reputation and use them to intimidate Arab and Western countries. Therefore it is in the regime’s interests to circulate images, videos and stories of these extremist groups, hiding the fact that they only began participating in the uprising approximately ten months ago and that they only represent a tiny minority of the Syrian revolution.