So far the identities of those behind the recent car bomb in Damascus which resulted in the deaths of 17 people are unknown.
The Syrian Interior Minister said it was a terrorist act and, undoubtedly, it was indeed a terrorist act. The Syrian [Arab] News Agency [SANA] announced that whoever perpetrated the bombing is a member of a takfiri [the ideas embraced by those that hold other Muslims to be infidels] organization.
As usual, several Syrian journalists rushed to accuse Israel because it is not happy with Syria’s rapprochement with France and the West. These journalists forgot or intentionally ignored the fact that the reason for Syria’s rapprochement with France or the West – if we may use this categorization – is because it has started negotiations with Israel. So why would Israel be angry at a course that it started?
However, this is the traditional, silly, and ready-made accusation that is acceptable to the Arab recipient.
Even after the Syrian announcement accusing the so-called takfiris, there are three serious possibilities related to the bombing of the International Airport Road on the Al-Sayyidah Zaynab intersection:
The act could have been perpetrated by Al-Qaeda and jihadist salafi currents in general; or it could have been perpetrated by pro-Iranian parties because Iran is worried about Syria’s openness on the West and on Israel and worried about the cost of this openness and its impact on Iran; or the bombing could be the result of internal settling of scores among the security organs as has happened several times in the past.
The prioritization of these possibilities is, as noted above, Sunni jihadist fundamentalists or Iran or the internal security organs.
In the following article, we shall pause a little at the first likelihood first because of its strength and soundness over the other possibilities and second, because of the shortage of space in dealing with the other two possibilities.
Regarding Al-Qaeda’s possible involvement in this operation, we have several indications that we should not overlook. The relationship between the political and security regime in Syria with the Sunni jihadist currents is a strange and complex one. It is not a secret to any observer that the Syrian regime has been generous with the Al-Qaeda fighters that sneak into Iraq under the guise of the resistance. These fighters later joined fighting fundamentalist groups in Iraq under the command of [Abu-Musab] Al-Zarqawi or other Al-Qaeda commanders in Iraq. Many of those that have been handed over to Saudi Arabia and other countries have confessed that Syria had been a welcoming and rest station and a gathering point for those going to or returning from Iraq. A report published in the British newspaper The Guardian on 22 May 2007 and attributed to a military US source says: “About 80% to 90% of the foreign jihadist fighters in Iraq enter through Syria”.
Naturally, Syrian officials continued to deny that Syria is involved in smuggling fighters to Iraq or even that it is closing its eyes to this fact. This is normal. Official Syria is not expected to admit this but the question that was always posed was: How could the fighters reach Iraq through Syria without the knowledge of the Syrian intelligence service that is notorious for exploiting all its senses to follow up on every whisper or hint that may disrupt the serenity of the regime? How could dozens or rather hundreds of entering and exiting fighters and suicidal bombers romp freely in the towns, neighborhoods and roads of Syria?
Even if we forget the above, how could a person like Abu-al-Qa’qa al-Suri or Mahmud Aghasi openly and publicly deliver resonating sermons in the mosques of Aleppo urging the youth to go and fight in Iraq and to actually send such youths there as he moved around in his robe and long beard? His sermons vie with those of Al-Zawahiri and are posted on the Internet. How could such a person move around so freely and with such agility? Was this a sign of the democracy of the regime and its patient acceptance of all viewpoints? Or was it an illicit collusion with Al-Qaeda along the lines of the common saying “I did not order it and it did not hurt me” even if it was said that Abu-al-Qa’qa was a mere tool that was cut off when its role was done. The man was killed in broad daylight in front of his mosque in Aleppo around the end of September 2007.
Perhaps the Syrian regime fell – as others have – in the famous illusion that they can toy with the terrorist fundamentalist bear at the beginning of the day and then get rid of it or put it back in its cage at the end of the day! This is an illusion that is repeated and always repeated in the Middle East region. No side wants to learn from the experience of others. Toying with religion and attempting to revolutionize religion or some of its aspects and then trying to benefit from this revolution on the political level without any repercussions or consequences is the biggest illusion of all. It is the first and last mistake because if you commit this mistake once it would be fatal and there will be no second time!
The regime saw with its own eyes the prelude of this fundamentalist agitation in the past few years. In June 2005, the Syrian Interior Ministry announced the dismantling of a terrorist cell that called itself “The Jund al-Sham” organization. This organization had prepared a scheme to carry out several attacks on several targets in Damascus and its outskirts, most prominently the Palace of Justice.
At this point, perhaps it is worth noting that Shakir al-Absi, the commander of the fundamentalist Fatah al-Islam group that clashed with the Lebanese army in the battles of the Nahr al-Barid [Palestinian refugee] camp used to travel around Syria merrily and with total freedom. He comes from Fatah-al-Intifadah that is run from Damascus by Khalid al-Umlah. The regime should also keep in mind that “Bilad al-Sham” [Greater Syria] that comprises most of Syria’s territory is a strategic goal that should be reached in Al-Qaeda’s imagination and thinking. “Bilad al-Sham” is the “Land of al-Ribat” that is blessed land and that was the center of the Umayyad Caliphate. It is the cradle of the Sunnis and the birthplace of Ibn Taymiyah, the symbol of symbols of the salafi currents. It is a land neighboring Jerusalem and, finally, it – that is Syria – is ruled by a sectarian and secular regime – according to the salafi fundamentalist currents – that should be fought. The fight against Syria is in the discourse of Abu-Musab al-Suri and others like him and it is the advice that Ayman al-Zawahiri gave to Al-Zarqawi before he was killed when he reminded him that the battle is not only in Iraq but in Greater Syria as well.
Some people say that President Bashar al-Assad is aware of this fundamentalist danger on him and that is why he deployed his troops toward Tripoli where the Sunni cauldron is seething. According to an analysis published in yesterday’s Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar – that is close to Hezbollah and Syria – Bashar al-Assad has received the blessings of France, Turkey, the West, and those behind them to strike at these salafi currents. However, the adversaries of the Syrian regime in Lebanon argue that this is no more than instigation and a theatrical by Syria to fabricate an excuse to return to Lebanon anew, this time from the gateway of the fundamentalist peril that Al-Qaeda poses.
At any rate, the other two likelihoods that we said we would not discuss at length – the possibility of Iranian involvement through its cells that are planted inside the [Syrian security] organs or the possibility of internal settling of scores – have not yet disclosed to us all the names of the killed or the names of important people that were inside the security building that is close to the scene of the explosion. These two possibilities should not be ignored. Perhaps the target was a particular officer that knows some dangerous secrets – as was the case with Ghazi Kanan and Muhammad Suleiman – or perhaps the goal of the operation was to send a hot message from Iran from under the table to the one residing in the People’s Palace in Damascus that maneuvering has limits and distancing from Tehran comes at a price and what a price!
Whether it was Al-Qaeda or the intelligence services of Tehran or the bears of the security regime [in Syria], the lesson that should be deduced by the decision-makers in Damascus that the time of calm has passed and that the fire that raged outside – whose flames and flying sparks pleased the regime – are now touching the hems of the Damascene robes. The most dangerous thing that the regime should fear is whether this fire is feeding on sectarian fuel.