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Extremist Jihadists freed from Syria prison at the onset of uprising in 2011

People in the Levant knew since 2011 that the regime of Bashar Assad freed over 1,000 Islamists from prisons, without any preconditions, in order for them to start the armed struggle.

Anyone who reads Arabic could find all these information from the dozens published books on the Syrian uprising and the brutality of the regime before and after the revolution.

Let’s hear what Phil Sands , Justin Vela and Suha Maayeh have to say, and possibly more details and other pieces of intelligence…

Phil Sands , Justin Vela and Suha Maayeh published this January 21, 2014

ISTANBUL / AMMAN // Syrian intelligence agencies released Islamist militants from prison to deliberately subvert a peaceful uprising and ignite a violent rebellion, according to a former regime security official.

The claim comes ahead of peace talks in Switzerland on Wednesday, which President Bashar Al Assad’s government said should “fight terrorism”, a term he uses to describe all armed opposition groups.

But according to the former security officer it was the regime that intentionally exacerbated radicalism shortly after the uprising began in March 2011 in order to make itself the least bad choice for the international community and Syrians alike.

“The regime did not just open the door to the prisons and let these extremists out, it facilitated them in their work, in their creation of armed brigades,” said the former member of Syria’s Military Intelligence Directorate, one of more than a dozen of Syria’s secretive intelligence agencies.

Assad regime set free extremists from prison to fire up trouble during peaceful uprising

The former officer said most of the releases happened over a period of four months up until October 2011 and that the project was overseen by the General Security Directorate, another of Syria’s widely feared security organisations and one of the most important.

Under pressure from opposition groups and the international community, the regime set free hundreds of detainees from jail in the first few months of the uprising as part of an amnesty.

But many political prisoners and protesters backing the peaceful uprising were kept in prison, while others, including known Islamist radicals and violent offenders, were quietly released.

Some former inmates of Saidnaya prison, a facility 50 km north of Damascus, went on to become prominent members of insurgent groups.

Zahran Aloush, commander of the Jaish Al Islam; Abdul Rahman Suweis of the Liwa al Haq; Hassan Aboud of Ahrar Al Sham; and Ahmad Aisa Al Sheikh, commander of Suqour Al Sham, were all held in regime jails prior to the uprising.

The commander of the powerful Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al Nusra, Abu Mohammad Al Jolani, is also rumoured to have been among those set free, although little is known about his true identity.

“Most of the important people in these extremist groups were in Saidnaya prison, not just Zahran Aloush. There were many of them and the regime let them go very deliberately,” the former intelligence officer said.

From the start of the uprising, the regime insisted it was facing an Islamist insurgency as a way of justifying its murderous response to overwhelmingly peaceful demands for political reforms.

To give that narrative credence and bolster support among the fearful religious minorities it depends on for support, as well as Syria’s moderate mainstream population, the regime sought to create instability inside Syria, including acts of violence by Sunni extremists, said the former intelligence officer. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

He is one of a small number of Alawite security officers who defected from the regime in protest at its tactics to break the uprising.

Although he left his position as head of a military intelligence unit in northern Syria in the summer of 2011, he remains in contact with some former colleagues and has not joined the opposition.

In fact, he believes Al Assad should remain in power as a preferable alternative to radical Islamist factions that have come to dominate the armed rebellion.

Groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and Jabhat Al Nusra have been infiltrated by Syria’s security forces, the former intelligence officer said, with regime personnel helping them wage war against other Islamic groups and, in some cases, even against Syrian regime forces.

“This regime is clever, no one on the outside will ever understand what goes on inside,” he said, describing a shadowy system of intelligence branches spying on each other, betraying one another, sometimes promoting attacks by armed rebels on other security branches – all in the name of serving the president.

The officer, who served for 12 years in military intelligence, including a long stint in Aleppo, said Syria’s security agencies played a key role in sending Islamist insurgents to Iraq to fight US forces following the 2003 invasion, with President Al Assad fearful Syria would be America’s next target.

Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital – now a ruined cityscape, smashed by artillery and airstrikes – was a key recruitment and transit hub for militants.

When the fighters returned to Syria, many were jailed or executed by the securty services, the former officer said, as the authorities sought to reign in extremists who, back on home turf, might pose a threat to the regime.

However, with the 2011 uprising against Bashar Al Assad refusing to die down after several months, the regime once again sought to exploit radical Islamists to make itself appear as a bastion of secular moderation.

“The regime wanted to tell the world it was fighting Al Qaeda but the revolution was peaceful in the beginning so it had to build an armed Islamic revolt. It was a specific, deliberate plan and it was easy to carry out.

“There were strong Islamic tendencies to the uprising so it just had to encourage them,” he said.

Another former regime official who has not joined the opposition agreed that there was a policy on the part of Mr Al Assad’s forces to create violence and terrorism to legitimise a crackdown on the opposition.

“You release a few people and you create the violence. It’s contagious,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Weapons were made available to radical elements of the opposition in key hotspots, including Deraa and Idlib, the former military intelligence officer said.

This is not something I heard rumours about, I actually heard the orders, I have seen it happening,” the officer said. “These orders came down from [Military Intelligence] headquarters Damascus.”

The officer remains angry about the strategy of stoking radicalism, saying it was a key reason why he left his post.

An incident in Jisr Al Shoughour, in northern Syria, in June 2011, proved decisive, after hearing higher ranked officers saying it was necessary to provoke sectarian bloodshed there, including the slaughter of fellow Alawite officers by Sunni rebels, in order to “serve the nation”.

“They [the regime] fed us nationalism but at the expense of our blood, they sold our blood to create Takfiris” he said, a reference to a radical Sunni ideology that regard Alawites as heretics who should be killed.

The claims of this officer could not be independently verified and he did not have documents supporting them.

Syria’s security branches have, overwhelmingly, remained fanatically loyal to the regime with each depending on the other for survival.

Some regime supporters admit former detainees have joined the insurgency, but say that was not the authorities’ intention and is, rather, the responsibility of international powers, which pushed Mr Al Assad to free all political prisoners, including Islamists.

In other cases, rebel fighters say they were radicalised by the routine torture practised in regime detention cells, with security service brutality boosting the appeal of extremist groups.

Islamic radicals are now a major participant on all sides of the Syrian conflict, with Sunni rebel groups battling one another as well as against Shiite militias fighting alongside the regime.

The increasingly sectarian proxy war, with Shiite Iran and the Sunni Arab Gulf states backing opposite sides, has killed in excess of 120,000 people, wounded hundreds of thousands more and forced upwards of 6 million Syrians to flee their homes.

It is a conflict that shows no sign of abating.

Opposition activists say about 1,500 inmates of Saidnaya, a major regime prison for Islamist militants, were freed by the Syrian government.

A former Saidnaya prisoner, jailed for three years but released before the uprising started, said many inmates went on to join armed rebel factions.

“Some of the important radical leaders [of armed groups] were in there including Jolani [the head of Jabhat Al Nusra], he said. “The Islamists were held in a separate wing of the prison but some of them like Aloush were famous. I didn’t see Jolani but people said he was in there,” the former detainee said.

Major General Fayez Dwairi, a former Jordanian military officer involved in Amman’s response to the growing crisis in Syria, said the Assad regime was directly involved in the growth of Islamic extremism.

“Many of the people who established Jabhat Al Nusra were captured by the regime in 2008 and were in prison. When the revolution started they were released on the advice of Syrian intelligence officers, who told Assad ‘they will do a good job for us. There are many disadvantages to letting them out, but there are more advantages because we will convince the world that we are facing Islamic terrorism’,” he said.

Maj Gen Dwairi said 46 leading members of Jabhat Al Nusra had been in Syrian regime custody, including its leader.

He also said Islamic groups had been infiltrated by Syrian intelligence agents.

A western security consultant, who has been involved in secret negotiations involving Jabhat Al Nusra, said senior figures involved with that group had been in Syrian prisons.

There have been other cases of the complex relationship between extremist militants and the regime. Some reports have said that after seizing oil fields in eastern Syria in 2012 Jabhat Al Nusra struck deals with the regime to transport the oil to the coast for export.

The former Syrian military intelligence officer said Mr Al Assad and his senior lieutenants had ruthlessly outmanoeuvred western and Arab states, dragging them into a regional sectarian war that, perversely, gave the regime better odds of survival than a peaceful uprising and gradual democratic change would have.

Western capitals now fear the Islamist-dominated opposition more than they do the regime, he said, making President Al Assad a potential ally rather than enemy.

“Syrian security opened the doors to the prisons, and they knew what would happen,” he said.

psands@thenational.ae

Pages:

(So far nothing new in this article, not even names of Syrian security officers)

Related

Hezbollah fighter details military operations in Qusayr

The large strategic town of Qusayr in Syria, at 15 kilometers from the north-east borders with Lebanon, has fallen. The Syrian insurgents will be unable to receive any military aids from Lebanon, for at least 3 months, and the war merchants in Lebanon will find it hard to export their weapons.

This victory will secure the western regions surrounding Damascus and secure the strategic routes to and from Homs and the sea shores. The battle of Aleppo will start in earnest within a couple of weeks. The Turkish borders will be the only open routes for the insurgents to receive any military support.

Hezbollah’s implication in the nearby Syrian war has been reported by numerous media outlets. In order to discuss the real scope and depth of the party’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, NOW talks to Hezbollah fighter Abou Ali, who has been deployed to Qusayr.

Mona Alami posted on NOW this interview on June 4, 2013

M A: Why are you fighting in Syria?

Syria has supported the resistance for over 30 years, we need to remain loyal to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Don’t you worry that Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria will significantly weaken Hezbollah? Do you believe that you can still fight Israel while waging war on another major front?

People have to understand that Hezbollah is now a regional party. The war in Syria is a preemptive strike on an enemy that was going to export the Syrian conflict into Lebanon.

Hezbollah will not allow for its military and strategic interests to be threatened without responding to such a threat. It will also not enter a war unless it is sure it can win it.

Hezbollah can still fight simultaneously on three fronts: in Syria, in the south against Israel, as well as internally. We are expecting to fight an internal war because we feel that those [foreign backers, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia…) who are spending money locally are now going to make use of it. All the indicators point in that direction.

Does the war waged by Hezbollah against the Syrian rebels bear any similarity with the war with Israel?

It’s actually very different from Lebanon, with the exception of the battles of Bint Jbeil (in the south), where the terrain and towns with houses built very close together are in many ways similar to Qusayr.

Elite and special forces that are now deployed in Qusayr are using their training in street fighting they received in Iran, which was done in mock cities specifically built for this purpose.

Who is Hezbollah fighting in Syria? Is it possible that in a country as big as Syria that the rebellion might be solely comprised of foreigners?

Most militants I met were foreign fighters: Europeans, Gulf Arabs, Chechens, Jordanians, and even Filipinos from the Abu Sayyaf movement!

Syrians only play a supporting and secondary role in the rebellion unless they fought in Iraq or Libya. These takfiris (Wahhabi sect) are savage enemies. They chop off their enemies’ heads because they believe beheading will promote them (on earth and in heaven).

Gulf  Arabs are also respected by rebels because they are usually wealthy and can offer a certain financial support to brigades. Jordanians and Somalis are those participating the most in suicide bombings.

Fighting in Qusayr has entered in its third week. Why has it been so hard for you to take over the border area?

Qusayr was initially divided in 16 military areas. Today an area of five blocks still remains in the control of rebels from the Nusra Front who have taken civilians hostage. We are trying to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible, which is slowing down the process.

Rebels who are arrested are immediately transferred to the Syrian intelligence services so that they can be used in hostage exchange operations.

Rebels are using guerrilla techniques against you in Qusayr. How are you responding to them and what weapons are being used?

We have called upon our specialists to neutralize the tunnel networks built by rebels in certain sectors of Qusayr. These specialists helped Hamas build their tunnel networks in Gaza.

Tunnels usually have a basic structure, it is easy for specialists to understand how they work, and they are helping us to destroy them by booby-trapping access and exit points. Rebels have also booby-trapped houses, so the only way to secure a certain perimeter is by blowing up walls to make holes. We are also relying on Syrian massive air raids in our military operations to wear down the rebels. Weapons used are mortars, PKK, Dushka, Russian 75, 106, as well as 155.

Many Hezbollah fighters have died in Qusayr. Some have attributed the high death toll to the inexperience of fighters who were sent initially. Is it true?

No it’s not. Reservists who were first sent to Qusayr had received from one month, three or six months training here in Lebanon. It is now the elite and special forces of Hezbollah who are fighting in Qusayr. Everyone who goes to fight in Syria has received a taklif sharii (a religious command).

Is Hezbollah present all over Syria?

At the beginning of the war, elite forces were initially responsible for protecting Shiite shrines. They have now been deployed in different Syrian areas.

Besides Qusayr, we are now fighting in Aleppo and rural areas surrounding it, as well as the suburbs of Damascus, Hama, and Idlib. In the Damascus suburbs and Aleppo, we are leading similar operations as those launched in Qusayr due to the nature of the terrain.

Are Iranians fighting in Qusayr?

No, but there are Iraqis in certain Damascus areas more particularly around Shiite shrines.

What is Hezbollah’s role in the current Syrian war? Is it collaborating with the regime’s new People’s Army?

Hezbollah is leading operations in Qusayr.  The Syrian army is playing a secondary role, deploying after an area is completely ‘cleaned’ and secured.

Hezbollah officers coordinate with the People’s Army but fighters never interact. The People’s Army is usually last to deploy after the Syrian army, as they have a better understanding of the area and its residents.

اليوم فقط الالقاء القبض على أكثر من 1500 كلب من كلاب العهرة والكر ... في قرية الضبعة أخر معاقل الارهاب في القصير .... 
المشكلة لو تم اعدامهم برصاص ... 
خسارة كبيرة فيهم الـ 1500 رصاصة .... اقتراحاتكم .... 

كيف الطريقة لقبر هولاء الكلاب الوهابية ........؟
Over 1,500 foreign insurgents made prisoner in the town of Dab3a, after fleeing Qusayr

Note 1: Hezbollah specialists helped the Palestinian Hamas build their tunnel networks in Gaza. Hamas aided the Syrian insurgents build tunnels in Qusayr, Homs, and many Syrian towns.  Hamas relied on Syria support in bringing in weapons.

Now, whom will send weapons to Hamas to resist another Israeli preemptive war on Gaza? Hamas sided with this loose Moslem Brotherhood ideology, and forgot the pragmatic ways to survive.

It is reported that Hamas leaders vacated Syria on the ground that Bashar is very scared of the US and will inevitably sacrifice them in order to put down this insurgency

Note 2: The numbers of casualties disseminated in the medias are overblown. It is reasonably estimate that no more than 200 were killed or seriously injured in both sides. The Syrian government will allow the Red Cross to visit Qusayr.

Note 3: Syria, in  coordination with the UN has kept the northern route of Qusayr open for civilians and insurgent to flee. Maybe the States that exported their fighters to Syrtia might repatriate its citizens. It is doubtful: The Moslem Jihadist who fought the Soviet troops in the 80’s were denied the right to return to their homelands, and Al Qaeda spread all over the world and its members hired by various State security services.

Apparently, the concerned States were not enthused to host victorious fighters who will seek an extremist military overturn of regimes… Will the defeated mercenaries change the decision of the States to repatriate their citizens this time around?


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