Saudi rulers, seeing Bashar Assad on the verge of defeating the opposition to his rule, are reported by debkafile’s intelligence sources as taking a hand in turning al Qaeda Iraqi cells loose against him. Saudi agents used their pull with Iraqi Sunnis to persuade al Qaeda leaders that Assad and his Alawite regime were their most dangerous foe.
The same message was also broadcast by their Pakistan-based leader Ayman al Zuweiri.
Al Qaeda strength was fast building up in Syria, say US intelligence agencies tracking the jihadists’ Middle East movements – ten days before Zawahri Sunday, Feb. 11 issued his videotaped instruction to all combat strength in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to converge on the Syrian battlefield.
Monday, Iraq’s acting interior minister Adnan al-Assadi confirmed that “a number of jihadists had gone to Syria,” reporting also that the price of weapons in Mosul had risen because they were being sent to the opposition in Syria “from Baghdad to Nineveh [province].”
debkafile’s counter-terror sources estimate that the bulk of the 1,500-strong Iraq-based al Qaeda network– Syrians, Egyptians, Libyans, Mauritanians, Pakistanis, Lebanese and Palestinians – have headed to Syria. This accounts for the sharp drop in terrorist attacks inside Iraq
The jihadists are making it across, despite nightly battles with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malik forces, whom Tehran has ordered block their passage, and with Syrian border guards on the other side.
The newly-arrived al Qaeda cells were almost certainly behind the Aleppo car bombings Friday, Feb. 10, which claimed the lies of 28 people, most security officials, and injured more than 200.
After virtually crushing most of the pockets of resistance to his rule, the Syrian ruler may well find himself up against the new threat of jihadist terror. After battling American troops for nine year, Al Qaeda in Iraq will not be easy to vanquish.
Ironically, they infiltrated Iraq from Syria across same border they are now breaching in the opposite direction. After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Assad regime gave al Qaeda forward bases and charged a fee of $10,000 or more for each individual crossing into Iraq with Syrian security cover.
Al Qaeda terrorists are therefore familiar with Assad’s security forces’ methods of operation and terrain and know how to elude them. Even when the Assad regime and al Qaeda were in close cahoots against the US war effort in Iraq, the Islamists kept the secrets of their hideouts and training centers from the knowledge of Syrian security and military intelligence. They can now make a beeline for their old clandestine haunts, our counter-terror sources report, for surprise assaults on their former allies.
In this regard, Assad and his intelligence advisers blundered badly when they decided to release the noted al Qaeda theoretician and strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri (real name Mustafa Abdul-Qadir). Born in Aleppo, he fought the Assads for more than three decades. Yet he was freed for two reasons:
1. Abu Mus’ab is Al-Zawahri ideological and tactical opponent and rival. The Syrians counted on him heading for Iraq and countermanding his antagonist’s directives to move jihadist strength into Syria. But now they have lost him. His whereabouts are unknown.
2. Assad had a score to settle with Britain for backing the opposition to his rule. Abu Mus’ab was the mastermind of the July 7, 2005 terrorist attacks on London’s transport system and 52 deaths, as well as the Madrid train bombings of March 11, 2004 which left 191 dead. The Syrian ruler had hoped that on the loose, Abu Mus’ab would start a fresh wave of bombing attacks in the UK. There is a $5 million US bounty on his head. His encyclopedia “Call for Global Islamic Resistance has been a template for jihadists.
Neither of Assad’s calculations was borne out. He now fears that one his most dedicated foes will now be gunning for him.
In his videotape statement, Al Zawahri ordered the mobilization of al Qaeda strength across the Middle East: “Wounded Syria is still bleeding day after day and the butcher isn’t deterred and doesn’t stop,” he said Sunday. “However, the resistance of our people in Syria is escalating and growing…”
Riyadh, even after giving Syria’s Sunni-led opposition arms and funding to stiffen their resistance to the regime, sees them falling back in the face of brutal military massacres. Turning to their Sunni friends in Iraq, Saudi agents asked them to convince al Qaeda leaders to make Syria their primary warfront and Alawite Bashar Assad’s overthrow their first priority – before even the ouster of Shiite Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
They argued that Assad’s survival would strengthen Iran’s and the Shiites’ grip on Baghdad, whereas his removal would weaken both their enemies.
Riyadh therefore laid on the money, logistics and arms for al Qaeda’s transfer from Iraq to Syria in the hope of energizing the flagging anti-Assad opposition’s struggle. Finally, after eleven months, Syrian dissidents find themselves sharing a broad base of operations with Muslim (Turkish), Arab, al Qaeda and Western allies.
Earlier fears in Washington that Iran would mobilize al Qaeda against American targets have been turned aside by Saudi Arabia getting in first to enlist the Islamist jihads against the pro-Iranian Syrian regime.