From Agassi to Al Nusra..Assad experience in jihadi investment!

06 - Jul - 2013

The West realized, the latest years of U.S. occupation of Iraq, that Syria backs many of the Baathist armed groups and Al-Qaeda that fought in Iraq, and fuels the sectarian project there, shaking its stability.

They used to come from across the region, gathering in Syria and then head for Iraq in the south. The Syrian-Iraqi borders were not only an easy passage for Iraq, but also a center for recruitment, training and penetration as well as a place where they work on instability in Iraq after Saddam.

Many stories showed up in this concern, on the top of which comes the story of the Syrian intelligence officer, Mahmoud Agassi, aka Abul Qaaqa', and others, that Iraq didn't recover from their repercussions until now..

Assad’s investment in jihadist organizations seems to recall experience with Al Nusra Front now in distorting and suppressing the Syrian revolution internally, and intimidating and confusing its supporters externally.
If Al Nusra was not created by itself, it would be created by Al Assad!
This is the conclusion of this study which discusses and covers Al Assad’s investment in Jihadist organizations and its ramifications.

About Al-Qaeda and the Syrian Revolution:

Throughout a year, since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, Al-Qaeda Central Leadership didn't issue a single statement until February 2012. Some Islamic preachers appear in mass media from time to time to give support in general. Preachers who have no relation with Al-Qaeda ... Jihadists representation also delayed in this revolution until Al Nusra Front originated late in 2011!

Perhaps it’s the foundation that if not existed by itself, it would be created by Al Assad! As a justification for repression internally and intimidation of its supporters externally! As well as distorting the nature of the revolution and its civil democratic core!

But despite this delay, Al Assad’s regime consistently stigmatized the civil peaceful revolution as terrorism and that it's a part of Al-Qaeda and a foreign conspiracy, although the Syrian revolution was born of innocence of Daraa children and their drawings on February 26, 2011.

It broke out from their peaceful demonstrations against suppression of the regime in the "Friday Dignity" on March, 15th and 18th of the same year.

No one militarized or armed the revolution but the regime. It was only late June 2011, with splits within the Assad regime’s army, as a rejection of its atrocities. The split of both Lieutenant colonel Hussein Harmoush, early in June 2011, who named his group "Free Officers Movement", then Colonel Riad Al Asaad on July 29, 2011 with his group which carried the name of the "Free Syrian Army"..

Al Nusra.. safe refuge for Al-Qaeda and Al Assad:

After the Islamic preachers' fatwas, others were released by Abul Mundhir al-Shanqiti, the prominent figure of Al-Qaeda now, that allow Jihadists to head for Syria to fight, where Hezbollah Jihadists preceded them.

But Shanqiti stipulated to wall them off from slogans and secular concepts of the civil revolution and not to adopt its demands, which means that the Jihadists entered Syria with their own project; a Jihadist revolution, a Jihadist country and safe refuge for it, and not as part of the project of the Syrian revolution itself.

Al Nusra seed delayed until late in 2011, and it seems that Bashar Al Assad regime picked it and nurtured it as he invested it in the best way; using it as a scarecrow from cradle to maturity. His allies got advantage of it as well, starting from Hezbollah whose leader, Hassan Nasrallah justified, in his speech on Saturday May 25 , 2011, the presence of its militia, of the Mujahedeen – he was quoted – in the Syrian territories and Al Qusayr currently, that it's a war against Al Nusra and armed Takfiri Groups, although Al Nusra doesn't exist in Al Qusayr, and its view to the Free army and the revolution civil powers is violent and hostile, the same of Bashar Al Assad and Hassan Nassrallah himself.

In an interview held by "The Economist" with one of Al Nusra's fighters on May 23, 2013, he expressed their stance regarding the democratic revolution saying: "The Sunnis who seek democracy are infidels and the Shiites are infidels, it is not a matter of regime's pros or cons, it's related to religion and Shari 'a as well as a relation between Al Nusra Front and the Syrian regime that acknowledged the existence of such a relationship if it is in the interest of Muslims, such as gas, oil and water. These matters are all in the hands of the Emir.

The regime got advantage of the presence of Al Nusra, and "They have neither permanent friend nor permanent foe"1, he added, which confirms that Al Nusra is not an addition to the revolution as it is an opponent as for the current regime. They might not care about convergence between them at any time! As a matter of interests.

So, the longest and toughest revolution among the Arab Spring revolutions became trapped between political authoritarianism of Bashar on one hand, and religious authoritarianism and Jihadist sectarianism of Al Nusra, Hezbollah and the other narrow mentalities on the other.

Deeper Indications for the relation between the regime and Al Nusra:

In addition to the progress achieved by the regime since the advent of Al Nusra, and after pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda, at both political and international levels, after succeeding in exporting scarecrows of Al-Qaeda and terrorism and that it doesn't fight but foreign fighters on its territory, the revolution factions and the Free Army kept advance until last summer, the same time Al Nusra strongly emerged in the Syrian revolution. Many observers have expected the fall of Al Assad regime by 2013.

There were problems in the supply of the army and a large number of defections and escapes. The fall of the regime was so close, but with the emergence and stability of Al Nusra, the regime restored its power, and succeeded in regaining control in part on the area stretching from Damascus to Homs, including the coastal areas near Homs.

Moreover, the pro-regime fighters expelled the rebels from a number of areas near Damascus and cut their supply lines from the south. Currently, the regime works on cutting the rebels’ supply lines from the West.2 Al Qusayr battle seems to be a protection for his last fort on the coastal areas that includes Alawite minority.

The emergence of Al Nusra and pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda on April 10, last year, one day after merging with Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, did not serve anyone but Bashar al-Assad. In addition to the interview held by "The Economist" with one of Al Nusra fighters, the statements of Al Nusra other fighters rolled out saying that they do not differentiate between those who call for freedom and others they consider infidels.3

Then, The Foreign Intelligence Agency of Germany (BND) referred to the poor state of the Syrian army supply and large numbers of fugitives, including senior officers. The BND spoke about the "the end of the regime".

But since then, the situation has quite changed, from the BNA's point of view. Schindler used diagrams and maps to show that Assad's forces regained effective supply lines to transfer sufficient amounts of weapons and other military equipment.
The supply lines of tanks and military aircrafts, which were not secured, became now secured, according to Schindler.

This new situation allows Al Assad’s forces to launch instant attacks on the rebels, in addition to regaining control on the positions they had previously lost. The BNA excluded that Assad’s army could defeat the rebels but believes that it can improve its situation in the light of the hit-and-run current war.

But there are indications for an indirect relation between the regime and Al Nusra Front, away from the Al Nusra battle raging between Hezbollah militias and Al Qusayr brigade in the Free Army:
1 – Regime forces facilitated the fall of Raqqa, which didn’t show much resistance or revenge, in the hands of Al Nusra on March 15th, 2013 despite the Front has captured the secretary of Baath party branch, and the then governor.
2- Although Al Nusra was fond of field executions for the field elements loyal to the regime in a repugnant manner and perhaps religiously and humanly unacceptable, there was no news about the Raqqa governor and the party official or the others captured by Al Nusra.
3- The promulgations of Al Nusra, either audio or video recordings or statements, come at a time that mainly serves the regime. The pledge of allegiance to Al-Qaeda Leader Ayman Al Zawahri on April 9 came amid mounting controversies and international rejection of al-Assad regime use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal in Aleppo countryside, which was repeated later in a number of other areas.
4 – The regime pays for Al Nusra Front, by agreement between them, the equivalent of two million dollars per month, for securing oil pass through territories controlled by Al Nusra Front, “The Guardian” reported on May 19th.
5- It seems that the regime uses Al Nusra as a scarecrow for the international and regional forces, following Al-Qaeda pattern in Iraq and Afghanistan, although the Syrian regime was among those who are involved in helping Jihadists pass to Iraq after 2003, which will be illustrated later.

Al Nusra Front entered Syria with its own ideological project. An indirect call from al-Assad regime is not ruled out, the regime that succeeded to keep good relations with the Islamists powers in general and Jihadists in Iraq in particular.

Considering that the Front has found Syria, revolution and crisis, a safe resort for investments and a good platform to restore the experiences of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq, and currently Mali! According to its ideology written by Abu Bakr Naji – or Mohammed el Hakayma – the strategy of "Management of Savagery".

Syria experience in penetrating Jihadist organizations:

Many security and intelligence services, especially in Syria, managed to penetrate jihadist organizations internally and externally, in many ways, directly and indirectly, to serve its strategic interests or to achieve its immediate aims, using these organizations to exchange information and provide intelligence services.

The Syrian intelligence provided a lot of information about the Hamburg cell that used to be led by Mohammed Atta, one of the actors in the 9/11/ 2001 incidents, which prompted former CIA Chief George Tenet to reject directing any blows to the Syrian regime following the occupation of Iraq. Penetration was better choice to achieve internal and external political advantages at the end.

About this penetration, In his book “al Tabreaa”, “Exoneration”, Ayman el zawahry tells the story of the Jihadist Mohamed el Moayad el Yamani saying: “it’s known and famous; he was lured to Germany, tricked to hand over donations to Hamas, then he was arrested there and deported to America where he is still imprisoned. Also the story of Sudanese Mohamed el Nafea who was lured to Germany by his in-law Gamal El Fadl, a spy, where he was offered to work as a spy agent for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). When Nafea refused, he was deported to America where he is still imprisoned.. And many other stories”.4

In the same context, Al Assad regime seems to make good investments with the Syrian popular revolution in the presence of these organizations, especially the Al Nusra Front, whose leader pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda on April 10, 2013, despite this allegiance have caused many divisions amongst members of Al-Nusra, many field sources said.

Before this pledge, even before the emergence of Al Nusra, that came months after the beginning of peaceful civilian revolution in Syria, Bashar al-Assad’s speech ranges between two scarecrows; terrorism and foreign conspiracy, no more! With both of them, he could suppress the internal and terrorize the external!

We will review a number of historical stages of Syrian regime penetration to many different Jihadist organizations:

First: Abu Abdullah el Guesry and the penetration of the Combatant Vanguard:
Abu Mos’ab al Suri, a “Combatant Vanguard” leader, and Al-Qaeda strategist later, recognizes a gap and intellectual defect in the current Jihadi movement as the Syrian Jihadist witnessed many penetrations saying: this is in addition to what is provided by the Syrian intelligence of agents in the atmosphere of conflict to raise the number and attraction of elements that took place among organizations”5

Using the mechanism of penetration, the Syrian regime succeeded to eliminate the “Combatant Vanguard” organization, dissident of Muslim Brotherhood movement, in Hama at 1982 through transplanting military intelligence officer Mohamed Jahid Dandash who called himself “Abu Abdullah Al Guesry” in the “Combatant Vanguard” organization and close to its leader Adnan Uqla, to be the end of the organization in a super-intelligent process.

Dandash, aka Abu Abdullah al Guesry, an officer in military intelligence – claimed that he is oil merchant who comes to Amman for this purpose and he is one of the "Combatant Vanguard" supporters.

He succeeded to make bases for the movement on the Turkish borders and helped their elements entering Syria to be arrested after Hama incidents. The Vanguard leadership decided to enter Syria to re-build bases and start a new confrontation with the regime.

Dandash picked up the thread and inspired the Vanguard that he provided a safe road and expert guides to help the elements going to Aleppo. A group after another, led by Adnan himself, started their way through the Turkish-Syrian borders.

On the other side, Syrian intelligence receives them, group after another and sends notifications to the organization leadership of safe arrival. Seventy men arrived and fell all in the hands of the Syrian regime then, Mohamed Selim Hammad, a witness, and Abu Mos'ab al Suri, a member of the Combatant Vanguard, and a strategist for Al-Qaeda later, said.

One of the most notable patterns of these penetrations by the Syrian regime in Jihadist groups was Mahmoud Gul Agassi, aka Abul Qaaqa’. Agassi was born at 1973 in north Aleppo and was assassinated after Friday prayers in a mosque in Aleppo on September 27, 2007.

The accusation fingers pointed out at the Syrian regime to get rid of a card it used for a long time to support and export Jihadists in Iraq who had been trained in Syria, or to reassure Israel after its successful bombardments on the Syrian territories –with no response as usual- as others think.

Accusation fingers also pointed out at Al-Qaeda and its active organizations then in Iraq. Al-Qaeda had already issued a warning that he was a spy for the Syrian regime!

He planted elements, eligible in form and speech and affiliated with these groups, to help penetrate and eliminate them, as in the case when the Syrian regime penetrated the Syrian Combatant Vanguard organization through Abu Abdullah al Guesry, which helped the regime to arrest their leader, Adnan Uqla, with 70 of the most important cadres and leaders of the organization which collapsed later!

After a while, it was found that he is a Syrian intelligence officer! He succeeded to penetrate the Vanguard. Al Guesry, ostensibly, added religiosity and devotion when describing his character.

"He used to read the Quran regularly, prays when people are asleep and he used to awaken his roommates for night prayers”, Mohamed Said Hammad, a witness, said.

This behavior was one of the main reasons that made Adnan Uqla and others trust him. The complacency of the Vanguard members in selecting their cadres, lack of validation of the history of their members and talking too much unnecessarily made the gap that helped him. Al Guesry started his penetration plan by escaping from Syria to Baghdad, then to Amman. Soon, he became one of the Vanguard leaders.

He convinced them that he has a group of Mujahedeen northern Syria, and showed them the messages he received from them, asking him to contact officials of the Vanguard to activate the combat operations that has been put out lately, especially after Hama massacre.

Abu Abdullah knew that the Vanguard was waiting for such a requirement impatiently and they will react incautiously, especially when the requirement comes from a splendid person."

Uqla has convinced his assistants with this suggestion and they prepared themselves for implementation. He used to send reports, one after another, to the intelligence service, persuading the Vanguard that he sends these reports to his companions in northern Syria. The Vanguard cells began getting in Syria to fall one after another until Adnan himself fell in the hands of the Syrian intelligence. Then, Al Guesry left Amman for Damascus where he was received with a standing ovation. Al Guesry was a Syrian intelligence officer.

Agassi.. Abul Qaaqa’..Al-Qaeda exports to Iraq:

Place and time:
After Friday prayers in front of "Al Eman" mosque in new Aleppo on September 28, 2007

The event:
A man with a group shot Mahmoud Gul Agassi, aka Abul Qaaqa’. Agassi was sent to Al Shahbaa hospital and died two hours later. Abul Qaaqa’ is the founder and the owner of Gharba' al Sham media institution since 1999.

The Killer:
One of his followers, but Ahmed Sadek Haidar, his office director, asserted that he is anonymous and is not any of his followers. He has never seen him before.6 Haidar caught him and told him: "you are government agents and you deliver the Jihadists". Haidar doesn't deny that Abul Qaaqa' has prevented a number of Mujahedeen to cross to Iraq.

Fatwa of violating the sanctity of Agassi's blood:

Mujahedeen Services Office, Media Broadcast for supporting Iraqi people, issued on January 28, 2004 a warning statement and attached fatwa to violate his blood sanctity as a spy on Muslims!

Abul Qaaqa' was born in Aleppo, in 1973. He studied at the Faculty of Shari'a, Damascus University, and belonged to the Ruling Baath Party. It is said that at the university, he was the leader of a party ring, carrying a gun publicly and he was Sufi calling for Sufism.

In 1999, he worked close to the late Assef Shawkat, president's in-law, and the former chief of Intelligence Service.
He emerged after 9/11 incidents and after the US invasion of Iraq, where he used to receive Arab youths to prepare them to get into Iraq.

He says he is "the first Jihadi Salafi in the world", moreover, he announced that he is not against the state or the Syrian regime, but he is with the state against the wrong."

According to Jordanian researcher Mohammed Abu Rumman, his name shined at the same time with "the beginning of the confrontation between "Fatah al Islam" and " the Lebanese authorities". Various sources referred to a certain relation between the activities of Abul Qaaqa' and the Arab youths in "Fatah el Islam group".7

In the same context, Abu Rumman links between Abu Qaaqa' story and the Palestinian young man, Abul Ads who appeared on a satellite channel, announcing that he is the murderer of Rafiq al Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

He highlighted "There is no doubt in the close relationship between Abul Qaaqa' and the Syrian security"
He was working freely, giving bullet speeches and organizing religious and political activities in a country that prevents all political-Islamic activities and has an iron handed security. It's inconceivable that he works individually or outside the required formal context!8

Abul Qaaqa' activities for the call, public speaking and habilitation for Jihad in Iraq became obvious. It was said that he opened his house to train and cajole who wants to join jihad of many Arab nationalities.

He used to work in Aleppo, under the Syrian regime, with complete freedom, but it seems that when Jihadist elements have revealed him, his importance has faded. As said by the manager of his office and a journalist in Aleppo, his murderer considered him a traitor and an agent for Security after he has prevented some jihadists to cross to Iraq and let them go back home ....

To complete the charming picture, Abul Qaaqa' used to show a Pakistani passport to his followers and tells them that he was prominent in the Afghani Jihad. It was not confirmed by any of the Afghani Jihadist later.

Neither Al-Qaeda nor Jihadists in Iraq defended him after his death! Though they were known that they immortalize their fighters, but he is a kind of story of penetration known by the jihadists and some of them have written them. Are there similar penetration stories in Al Nusra Front now?! And to what extent with the indications of the relation with the regime!!

Syria .. Sponsor of jihadists in Iraq:

One does not forget after the bombings, the shout slogans and demonstrations in Hillah city in 2006 against a neighbor country! Syria, which is supported by Maliki regime now!

It makes us reminiscing from the archives of the resisting regime in Syria the massacres that took place in Mosul, Iraq, between December 2004 and February 2005, in which hundreds of Iraqis were killed by foreign Jihadist elements in Iraq.
Brigadier General Abul Walid, commander of Al Zeieb brigade at Iraqi Special Forces said that Arab people related to Syrian intelligence have formed terrorist networks and called them:
1- Al Tahrir army
2- Al Fateh army
3- Al Tawhid wal Jihad group, in addition to Baathist cells.

These groups are led by Syrian intelligence officers, an Iraqi high-level source said then. They confessed they were trained on implementing armed processes in a campaign in Lazeqia under the supervision of the Syrian intelligence”.9
Among the arrested were officers in Syrian intelligence. The television recorded these investigations.

Anas al Abssi, one of the detainees, demonstrated for more than 18 days as deaf and dumb. It was discovered that he is a lieutenant in the Syrian intelligence and finally confessed his role to recruit the armed men. He provided the phone numbers of officials in Syria in addition to classified documents that belong to Syrian intelligence”10

Conclusion:

These incidents - and many others - positively prove the experience of Al Assad regime and its relations with the Jihadist organizations and his ability to penetrate them as with the Combatant Vanguards, Abul Qaaqa’, Mahmoud Agassi, the experiences of Jihadists in Iraq or even in his success with his Iranian ally in managing political Jihadist organizations movement in Palestine and other countries.

This could be repeated with Al Nusra Front in which the Syrian regime has made investments and its relation with Al-Qaeda before its presence throughout 2011 or even after its presence and before pledging allegiance to Al-Qaeda and after disaffiliation because of it.

It invests in it with his allies to justify his suppression of the free and democratic revolution powers in different arenas and clashes; not only al Qusayr battle in which Al Nusra has no role.

If Al Nusra and Al-Qaeda didn’t unify, Al Assad would invent it.. It’s a major condition to distort the essence of the noble civil revolution of Deraa children.

Perhaps as he succeeded in holding self-interest deals on oil and gas, he highly succeeded in penetrating it.. Especially with the intellectual trouble of the Jihadist current about which, Mosab el Suri has previously talked and warned from the dangers of penetration always allowed by the first. The predominance of the reasonableness obedience and allegiance for his rules!

Translated by : Lamis Gawish

References

1- The complete dialogue on this link.

2- Matthias Gebauer , Syrian Rebels in Trouble: German Intelligence Sees Assad Regaining Hold, link

3- A fighter of Al Nusra Front: we believe that the Sunni who calls for freedom is infidel like all the Shi’tes. Al Youm 7 Egyptian Newspaper.

4- Ayman Al Zawahri, “Al Tbreaa”, electronic version.

5- Abu Mosaab al Suri, notes on Jihadi experience in Syria, electronic version published in Minbar el Tawhid and Jihad, p.4

6- Al Arabiya net September 30, 2007.

7- Mohamed Abu Romman, Al Aasr electronic magazine, July 1, 2007, link

8- Ibid.

9- Osama Mahdi, Syrian Intelligence sends armed men to Iraq, link

10- Ibid

 

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