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Has Al-Qaeda Arrived In Damascus? – OpEd

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By Abdul Rahma Al-Rashed

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he has seen intelligence reports indicating an Al-Qaeda presence in Syria. His remarks came after twin bombings in Damascus on Thursday. The Syrian officials could not believe what they heard. They were happy to hear this. Spokesman of the Syrian Foreign Affairs Ministry Jihad Maqdasi was quick to tell radio Sawa that what the US minister has discovered was already known to them before.

The spokesman said the regime wants the US administration to exert more pressure on its allies who are not supporting Kofi Annan’s plan to do so.

The Syrian government wants to convince the entire world that it has been fighting terrorism, Al-Qaeda and the forces of darkness, and not a popular uprising against a savage regime. Has the Syrian revolution, which has captured the hearts and minds of many in the world, turned into playground for Al-Qaeda, which is the most criminal and bloody of all the terrorist organizations in the world?

This exactly what that the Syrian authorities have tried to draw the attention of the world to. This is the means by which the government tried to win over the Chinese and Russians about 10 months ago. They tried to convince them that the possible alternative in Syria would be the extreme Islamic groups which would no doubt undermine the interests of all countries of the world.

Were the horrible twin blasts in Damascus the work of Al-Qaeda? There are two possibilities: They were either the work of the Syrian intelligence so as to accuse the revolution and the opposition of terrorism making them terrorists in the eyes of the world or they were actually the work of Al-Qaeda which is famous for such acts against the Syrian government buildings.

It is not strange that the security forces in Syria would commit criminal acts and attribute them to Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. The most notorious of these was the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri for which Syria tried to blame terrorist Islamic groups. It came up with a fake story of a man named Abu Addas and recorded a video film in which he claimed responsibility for the suicide bomb which killed Hariri. The international investigations proved that this false claim was a shear lie and that the actually murderers were the Syrian government and Hezbullah militias.

We do not exclude the presence of Al-Qaeda in Syria which is a terrorist organization that is present at any crisis in the region. If this claim was true, it would not guarantee the Syria regime with a certificate of good conduct. The regime is not less criminal that Al-Qaeda itself. It was responsible for all the terrorists acts which took place in Lebanon and Iraq.

We know for certain that the Syrian regime was involved in the activities of Al-Qaeda. It received the new recruits for the terrorist group from various parts of the region facilitating their entry to the country and providing them with protection until they crossed the borders to Lebanon or Iraq. I am dead sure that the Syrian regime is exalted by the presence of Al-Qaeda in the country and overjoyed that its buildings in Damascus were blasted in the two explosions.

The regime believes that is its last card to convince the world that Al-Qaeda was a partner in the revolution. It wanted to tell that world that its fight against the freedom fighters is actually a fight against Al-Qaeda. According to the regime, the world has two options: Either Bashar Assad or Ayman Al-Zawahri (leader of Al-Qaeda).

The Syrian envoy to the UN promised in his speech before the Security Council to present names, photographs and also maybe recorded confessions of Al-Qaeda members fighting in Syria including Europeans and other foreigners who were captured while fighting beside the freedom fighters.

If it happens, this will be the largest rabbit to come out of the hat of the besieged regime. The undecided and hesitant West will then be really frightened. We do not entirely dismiss the possibility that some terrorists might have entered into Syria. It was also possible, as Panetta has hinted, that some of the explosions might be the work of Al-Qaeda. We will not be surprised to see some British and French terrorists captured in Syria.

Despite all this, we should not fall prey to the machinations of the Syrian regime which has an outstanding record of terrorist acts. The regime has all the means required to bring Al-Qaeda fighters and allow them to destroy some of its installations as long as this might convince the West to give up supporting the revolution. This is but a small price the regime has to pay to change the world stance. It has done this repeatedly in Lebanon. We should never forget that it was the Syrian regime which sent terrorist groups to Nahr Al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon following differences with the government of the day in Beirut. All the terrorists who escaped from prisons in Lebanon took refuge in Syria during the past five years. Some Iraqi terrorist groups are still present in Syria.

Actually it was wrong to believe the Syrian story. Even if Al-Qaeda was involved in the war, the world community should differentiate between a revolution of 20 million people and the presence of terrorist groups on the frontlines.

During one year, the Syrian regime killed 10,000 unarmed people; the majority of them were women and children. It destroyed cities and residential areas in a manner which we have not witnessed in more than half a century. The crimes committed by the Syrian regime could not be erased easily from the memory of the Syrian people. The world should win over the freedom fighters if it wants a future Syria free from all forms of terrorism.

The regime’s alleged acceptance of Annan’s plan and ultimately a peaceful solution, as the its spokesman has claimed, simply means accepting the regime which will continue to depend on terrorist organizations as well as on Iran.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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