What troubles Western observers is not the groups’ fighting prowess, however, but their shared vision of a jihad that extends beyond Assad’s ouster. While other rebels are fighting to remove the Syrian dictator, former and current U.S. and Middle Eastern officials say, the al-Qaeda groups are transforming the conflict into a symbolic struggle against the West and Israel, using words and images that resonate with like-minded Muslims from the Arab Peninsula to Western Europe.
The United States has had limited success cutting off funding to the al Qaeda-linked fighters and foreign jihadists flowing into Syria — in part because of a lack of cooperation on the part of Middle Eastern allies, Intelligence and national security community sources say.
Less well known is the sectarian strategy pursued by Sunni extremists, particularly the ultraconservative Salafis living in the Persian Gulf, who are sending “hundreds of millions” of dollars to ensure the worst factions of the revolt are ascendant — mostly under the guise of humanitarian relief.
Over the course of the operation, Human Rights Watch says the fighters killed 190 civilians. Residents and hospital staff in Latakia, the nearest city, spoke of burned bodies, beheaded corpses and graves being dug in backyards. Two hundred people from the area remain hostage.
The war in Syria: Rebel atrocities | The Economist – 10/13/2013.
Two opposition groups that took part in the offensive, the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are still holding the hostages, the vast majority women and children. The findings strongly suggest that the killings, hostage taking, and other abuses rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said.
“You Can Still See Their Blood” | Human Rights Watch – 10/11/2013.
▶ Syria: Executions, Hostage Taking by Rebels – YouTube – 10/11/2013.
“We are collecting money to buy all these weapons, so that our brothers will be victorious,” hard-core Sunni Islamist Sheikh Shafi’ Al-Ajami announced on Kuwaiti television last month, listing the black-market prices of weapons, including heat-seeking missiles, anti-aircraft guns and rocket-propelled grenades.
U.S. and Middle Eastern officials describe the money as a small portion of a vast pool of private wealth being funneled to Syria’s warring factions, mostly without strings or oversight and outside the control of governments.
Excessive license and loss of boundaries and containment have long characterized the Islamic Small Wars. One may trace that back at least as far as the slaughter of the men of the Banu Quarayza who had surrendered to Muhammad expecting to keep their lives and their community intact. Instead, so goes the legend, males with even a single pubic hair for signal were beheaded and the wives, daughters, and sons taken as war booty. That Human Rights Watch should today be screaming about Al Qaeda-class war crimes comes as no surprise.
For the field, the image of the organics of the Islamist front becomes ever more clear as well as daunting as we learn that some middle east governments, as powerful and wealthy as they may be, cannot rein in their own rogues — or, perhaps, they are shielding the same from western powers. Either way, private bank accounts seem unhindered as regards collecting the kind of “charity” that becomes cash for the arms leveled at hapless and unarmed residents in the path of the coldly deranged and enraged.
“We often see buses around with all their curtains drawn. I have no doubt that their passengers are Islamists on the road to Paradise,” says Mehmet with a sad smile. He criticizes the “silence of the Turkish media on Ankara’s dark moves,” as he puts it.
“Here it’s not about rebels fighting [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad, it’s Jabhat al-Nusra – an armed group close to al Qaeda – and Syrian Kurdish fighters engaging in brutal clashes.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday said “Turkey has never supported any units which have connections with Al Qaeda and never let them use our borders with Syria”, Anadolu Agency reported.
Remember: lies are told to hide something or to get something.
It was the first face-to-face between Mr. Erdogan and President Barack Obama in almost a year. Mr. Obama delivered what U.S. officials describe as an unusually blunt message: The U.S. believed Turkey was letting arms and fighters flow into Syria indiscriminately and sometimes to the wrong rebels, including anti-Western jihadists.
Seated at Mr. Erdogan’s side was the man at the center of what caused the U.S.’s unease, Hakan Fidan, Turkey’s powerful spymaster and a driving force behind its efforts to supply the rebels and topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Later, however, Muslim accused Turkey of facilitating the jihadists’ cross-border movements by clearing passages through minefields and removing barbed wire. During our September interview, he had strong words for Turkey. He said he wanted to continue the dialogue with Ankara, but could not understand Ankara’s support of extreme religious elements.
Whatever Syria was three years ago, it’s either gone today or is missing parts of its once constituted sovereignty. Death has taken more than 100,000 of its constituents; fighting has displaced more than three million once settled residents; the same has “forced” autonomy on the Kurdish community — ten percent of Syria’s population overall; entire cities lay in ruin; borders, checkpoints, and roads have been overrun but by God only knows what.
The worst thing may be the latent Somali-like sub-state anarchy evident in the transfers of arms, cash, and Al Qaeda-type fighters from one location to another across numerous borders and boundaries. Rather than running their separate parts of the show in Syria, it appears that governments and their intelligence agencies have been reduced to searching for ways to benefit from or leverage the activities of a largely unremarked class of private persons with the connections and wherewithal to exert their own will through young proxies.
Related: Qatar-funded Syrian rebel brigade backs al Qaeda groups in Syria – Threat Matrix 7/26/2013.
Moscow’s and Washington’s posturing around chemical weapons and peace talks would seem to gloss over the anarchy and the prospect, which one may as well interpret as the reality, that all civil and responsible government has fled northern Syria and what remains are armed bands in various stages of collusion and contest left to mayhem, murder, and making themselves comfortable.
Al-Qaeda-linked Groups Taking Root in Syria – 10/13/2013.
7 Red Cross Workers Kidnapped By Gunmen In Syria – 10/13/2013; 4 of 7 kidnapped aid workers freed in Syria – Yahoo News – 10/14/2013.
Rebel-on-Rebel Violence Seizes Syria – WSJ.com – 9/18/2013: “ISIS fighters recently raided a council arms depot filled with lights weapons and ammunition, funded by the Gulf states and funneled to the council with the guidance of the Central Intelligence Agency, council members said.”
Syria: nearly half rebel fighters are jihadists or hardline Islamists, says IHS Jane’s report – Telegraph – 9/15/2013: “Opposition forces battling Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria now number around 100,000 fighters, but after more than two years of fighting they are fragmented into as many as 1,000 bands.”
Jordan captures arms smugglers from Syria – 8/3/2013.
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