Are Assad and al Qaeda working together?

Bridget Johnson drops what could be a geopolitical bombshell on the entire Syrian debate (Pajamas Media):

In a chilling alliance that could turn conventional wisdom about the current Syria debate — and the revolution’s players — on its head, signs continue to mount that show al-Qaeda is working not against Bashar al-Assad but in concert with the dictator.

This includes assassinating key Assad opponents, coordinating attacks, not targeting each other’s positions and helping push a War on Terror narrative to keep Assad in power.

Johnson goes into some detail about how Assad and al Qaeda have cooperated in the past…then shows just how recent that past could be:

As its power has grown, al-Qaeda has been handily taking out longtime foes of Assad and advocates for a democratic Syria.

Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who called Syria home since the late 1970s, welcomed tens of thousands of Syrians, the majority of those Muslim, through his Monastery of Saint Moses north of Damascus each year. As Assad’s regime waged a bloody crackdown on peaceful Arab Spring demonstrators beginning in 2011, Father Paolo became an icon of the revolution, a constant leader of opposition protests and a thorn in Assad’s side until the regime finally expelled him from the country in June 2012. Syria’s state news agency smeared the priest a year ago, saying he was on al-Qaeda’s payroll.

By January, Father Paolo was back. He wanted to bring all factions of the opposition together for cohesive dialogue with the goal of moving forward as one and ousting Assad. He was kidnapped at the end of July by al-Qaeda fighters of the ISIS and killed, thereby ridding Assad of a unifying figurehead against his regime.

He wasn’t alone either. The ISIS crew (short for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) have also taken out dissidents Dr. Mohammed al-Abyad in Aleppo, Mohammed Hamadeh, and Kamal Hamami – the last of these a Free Syrian Army commander. As Johnson puts it, “When a high-profile opponent of Assad’s is rubbed out, there’s a consistent calling card: al-Qaeda.”

Now, it should be noted that these reports have not made it Long War Journal, my usual go-to site for the Wahhabist-Ba’athist-Khomeinist War, although Thomas Jocelyn himself made it clear in his testimony to the House Committee on Homeland Security that al Qaeda didn’t start the Syrian rebellion and “does not control” it. Jocelyn did say that al Qaeda had a strong presence in the country, ostensibly on the rebel side. After Johnson’s report, however, “ostensibly” is a required qualifier.

To those outside the Middle East, the idea of Assad and al Qaeda partnering up may seem strange, but in 2007 I tracked numerous reports of out Iraq revealing al Qaeda and the Iranian mullahcracy working together despite the conventional wisdom that they were at each others throats.

As it happens, Assad (an ally of the mullahcracy for over three decades), seems to be using some of the same methods (Johnson again):

Another defector, top Air Force intelligence aide Affaq Ahmad, confirmed that the jihadists don’t get into conflicts with the regime forces. “They also decline to get into fights in the coastal areas due to an agreement between them and the regime that had been brokered by the financial backers of these brigades,” Ahmad said in an interview after fleeing Syria. “Actually, the jihadist groups and brigades were very useful for the regime because they provided a justification for the regime’s insistence on a military solution, and provided some legitimacy under the cover of the War on Terror.”

Under that agreement, he added, the regime accepted the killings of minorities including Assad’s own Alawite sect “in order to use that to convince these minorities to rally around the regime and hold on to it.”

One of the al Qaedite groups – Al Nusra – has even struck oil deals with Assad’s forces (Guardian, UK).

According to Nawaf Fares, a former Syrian Ambassador to Iraq who defected last year, Assad and al Qaeda even cooperate on False Flag operations (if I have the term correctly) designed to make the rebels look like terrorists (Telegraph, UK):

Mr Fares’s most damaging allegation is that the Syrian government itself has a hand in the nationwide wave of suicide bombings on government buildings, which have killed hundreds of people and maimed thousands more. By way of example, he cited the twin blasts outside a military intelligence building in the al-Qazzaz suburb of Damascus in May, which killed 55 people and injured another 370.

“I know for certain that not a single serving intelligence official was harmed during that explosion, as the whole office had been evacuated 15 minutes beforehand,” he said. “All the victims were passers by instead. All these major explosions have been have been perpetrated by al-Qaeda through cooperation with the security forces.”

Fares speaks from personal experience:

He himself, he added, knew personally of several Syrian government “liaison officers” who still dealt with al-Qaeda. “Al-Qaeda would not carry out activities without knowledge of the regime,” he said. “The Syrian government would like to use al-Qaeda as a bargaining chip with the West – to say: ‘it is either them or us’.”

Gee, where have we heard that before? Ah yes, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan…

Again, this is just one report, but it is detailed enough to ask some very serious questions, and perhaps rethink the entire Assad vs. al Qaeda narrative that has just happened to allow both to prosper.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

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