In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Nawaf Fares, a senior Syrian diplomat
who defected to the rebel side asserted that the Assad regime was responsible
for a major act of terror in Damascus, which was blamed at the time on al-Qaida.
The former Syrian ambassador to Iraq left Syria last
In the interview with Telegraph correspondent Ruth Sherlock, Fares
claimed that the regime set up the bombing of a military intelligence
headquarters in al-Qazzaz, ensuring that personnel at the base absented
themselves minutes before the explosion, and that the only casualties were
“All these major explosions,” Fares told the Telegraph, “have
been perpetrated by al-Qaida through cooperation with the security
A degree of scepticism is useful, of course, in evaluating
Fares’s statement. He is a newly minted enemy of the regime, and has an interest
in blackening its name.
But while the cynicism that would enable a regime
to deliberately target its own population may seem shocking, it is in fact
entirely in accord with the past practice of the Assad regime.
the skillful use of jihadi organizations as tools of policy is one of the
hallmarks of the Syrian dictatorship.
As Fares himself notes in the
interview, during the Sunni insurgency against US forces in Iraq, Syria opened
its border with Iraq to jihadis wishing to enter the country and take part in
Damascus airport became a central hub for Sunni Islamists
from across the region, who were ferried from there to the Iraqi
At the same time, Assad sought to present himself as an ally of
the US in the war against terror, and as a “secular” opponent of
Similarly, in Lebanon, Damascus has long made use of Sunni
jihadis for its own purposes. In recent years, the most well-known instance of
this was the emergence of the Fatah al-Islam organization in the Palestinian
Nahr al-Bared refugee camp.
This mysterious group was led by one Shaker
al-Abssi, a former inmate of a Syrian jail who for no apparent reason was freed
and then turned up in Lebanon.
Fatah al-Islam engaged in violence against
the Lebanese army and UN peacekeepers in 2007. The group was later crushed by
the Lebanese armed forces in Nahr al-Bared, in a standoff in which around 400
Many analysts, noting Abssi’s unexplained early exit from
jail, saw the organization as an element in Syria’s broader campaign to
destabilize Lebanon following the end of Syria’s occupation of the country in
Even in Syria itself, prior to the uprising, the Assad regime also
made use of puppet Sunni Islamist groups.
The Jund al-Sham group, for
example, was widely considered to be controlled and manipulated by the
One of the regime’s known methods regarding Sunni Islamists who
it wishes to make use of has been to first incarcerate them, and then after a
suitable period of time to offer them the possibility of freedom in return for
action on behalf of the authorities.
All of which brings us back to the
present day, and to the bombs in Damascus.
55 people died in the two car
bombings at the military intelligence building at Qazzaz.
Syrian officials at the time tried to blame al-Qaida-linked
elements for the attack. They pointed to the Jabhat al-Nusra organization as the
Much media coverage subsequently speculated that al-Qaida was entering the rebellion.
This appears to have been the goal of
If Nawaf Fares is to be believed, the intention of the
regime was to cast the rebellion against it as an Islamist insurgency, and thus
to chip away at western and international support and sympathy for the
In pursuit of this goal, Assad appears to have been prepared to
deliberately murder a large number of his own civilians – including many who
were presumably his supporters.
This should come as no surprise. The
Assad regime is by its own admission currently engaged in a battle for
It has throughout its existence made use of the very darkest
methods taught to it by its trainers and backers in the intelligence services of
the then-communist police states of eastern Europe.
It has never flinched
before assassinating and terrorizing its enemies. It now appears that it also
regards its own people, and even its own supporters as entirely dispensable and
disposable in pursuit of its objectives.
As the regime’s fortunes recede
further, it is likely that similar and even more shocking revelations than those
detailed by Nawaf Fares will come to light.