Al-Qaeda in Syria Leader: Kill Alawite Minority, Russians; Christians fear West Backs Him

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The leader of al-Qaeda in Syria, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, has called for an escalation in attacks on the population centers of the Alawite Shiite minority.

The president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, and other leading members of the ruling Baath Party belong to this folk sect of Islam. Alawites constitute 10-14 percent of Syrians, or 2 to 3 million persons, and predominate in the northwestern area of Latakia.

While it would be unfair to blame all Alawites for it, the al-Assad regime has used tanks and aerial bombardment against Syrian dissidents, turning what had been a peaceful protest movement into a vicious civil war, killing tens of thousands, and displacing millions. The regime also kidnapped large numbers of dissidents and tortured an estimated 10,000 to death.

Al-Qaeda leader Al-Julani said in a speech broadcast via YouTube that the Russian intervention aims at saving the government of al-Assad from collapse, but that it would fail, just as the military support of Iran and Hizbullah had failed. He added that “there is no choice but to escalate the battle and to target Alawite villages and townships in Latakia.” He called on all the elements of al-Qaeda to “bombard all these villages with hundreds of rockets daily, just as Russia is targeting Sunni villages and towns.”

The Support Front or Jabhat al-Nusra has a direct reporting line to core al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Some of its fighters, like the recently deceased Abu al-Hassan al-Tunisi, a right hand man of Usama Bin Laden, are core al-Qaeda going back to Afghanistan days. It holds substantial territory in northern Syria, directly controlling areas of Idlib Province, and forming a coalition called the Army of Conquest with hard line Salafi groups such as the Freemen of Syria (Ahrar al-Sham). The Army of Conquest is thought to receive substantial financial and weapons support from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, despite the leading position within it of al-Qaeda. The US CIA provides munitions such as TOW anti-tank weapons to Saudi Arabia, which shares it with Salafi groups such as the Army of Conquest and the Army of Islam. The Freemen of Syria is less extreme than al-Qaeda but declines to commit to support for pluralist democracy. When, in December of 2012, the US designated al-Qaeda in Syria or the Support Front a terrorist organization, 29 rebel groups denounced this designation and declared “we are all al-Nusra.”

Al-Julani, whose family is from the Golan Heights, fought US troops in Iraq alongside Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia there. He was captured and spent time at the American prison camp in Iraq, Camp Bucca. He became close to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq, the successor to al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. But al-Julani has since broken with al-Baghdadi, now the leader of Daesh (ISIS, ISIL), on orders of core al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri.

Al-Julani said that the Russian intervention is “an eastern Crusader campaign” doomed to failure. He said the Russians had intervened after the jihadis had inflicted on the al-Assad regime a series of defeats and had reduced the Syrian Arab Army essentially to a militia among other militias.

Al-Julani had also called on Muslim extremists in the Caucasus to launch attacks on Russia in retaliation for its Syrian intervention. Al-Qaeda in Syria has North Caucasus volunteers. On Oct. 12, Russian intelligence, the FSB, said that a major attack in Moscow by extremists had been foiled, and three men were remanded to custody.

Al-Julani also put a $5 million price on the heads of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the leader of Lebanon’s Hizbullah, Hassan Nasrallah.

Meanwhile, Greek Melkite Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, speaking in the UK, warned British politicians against supporting Muslim extremists [such as the Army of Conquest and its key component, al-Qaeda in Syria] in Syria. Jeanbart characterized the Baath regime as modern and tolerant of religious minorities, in contrast to the hard line Salafi jihadist groups being supported by the West. Jeanbart said that most Syrian Christians support the Russian intervention.

Of the Salafi Muslim extremists he said,

““They don’t accept anyone who is different,” Archbishop Jeanbart added. “Anyone who is not a fundamentalist Muslim has no rights — no right to live, no right to be in society, no right to be a citizen . . . [they] have destroyed everything — our economy, our industry, our churches, everything. . . The most important thing we are suffering from is that they are destroying man. They are taking away our right to choose what we want to be.”

It is an index of how dire the situation is for Syria’s roughly one million Christians, most of them Eastern Orthodox, that one of their leaders should cling to the illusion that the virtually genocidal al-Assad regime is “tolerant.” That Christians were better off under the Baath than they would be under al-Julani, however, is not in doubt. In Syrian politics there is very little middle ground.


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17 Responses

  1. Gaaaah. It always comes back to Saudi Arabia, doesn’t it? Saudi Arabia is the source of money and weapons for nearly all the oppressive, totalitarian, theocratic, mass-murdering groups in the region, and the US keeps backing Saudi Arabia.

    If our government had any principles, we’d boycott Saudi oil and destroy all the munitions we previously sold them. But our governments have sold their souls for oil. I don’t think this will change until oil is no longer relevant (when electric cars & solar & wind power take over).

  2. Disturbing in several ways, as is so much of the news from that region. I sure hope our leaders know what they are doing, and know the future consequences of their actions. Even the immediate consequences are disturbing. The Intercept reports that almost 90% of our drone victims are not the target. And sometimes, as when we bomb a hospital, even being the “intended target” doesn’t mean people deserve to die.

  3. Al Qaeda, ISIS, the petro-monarchies, and CIA/DoD are not fighting in Syria because of their commitment to ‘peaceful protest movements’. And their involvement makes it a stretch to characterize the conflict as a civil war.

    • Words of wisdom on the actual reality of how and why this beautiful, peaceful little country has been destroyed.

      • Agree, the idea that the Saudi’s are in Syria to support democracy is the absurd on stilts. The Saudi’s detest democracy with every fiber of their being.

  4. “al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States”
    I question that attribution because neither the nature nor the authorship of 9/11 have been properly investigated and/or published, officially.

    • The late Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian intelligence agent who had defected to Britain, had indicated that Ayman al-Zawahiri had received training in terror operations in Dagestan by Russian intelligence services in 1998 before joining al-Qaeda as a deputy to bin Laden in Afghanistan later that year. Zawahiri also visited China, dealing with government banks there, and he had been headquartered in Sofia, Bulgaria assisting the Bosnian resistance during the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s before he had headed to Dagestan:

      link to

      This article suggest that Russia and China may have had serious supporting roles in 9/11.

  5. We should let Syria go to hell. We should stop our drone-attacks. ALL We SHOULD Do Is HELP Those In Refugee Camps. We should be like Sweden or Switzerland and develop our resources do that we do not need any oil or anything else from anyone else. Syria is not even a market for our goods and services.

  6. The main stream media has yet to understand the implications of the map. There are no moderate forces in Syria. The US can find only a handful of Syrians to train and they are completely incapable of putting their trainees into any part of Syria where they can work with other groups. Instead each group of US trained fighters has either been attacked or had their weapons stripped from them.

    The question our leaders need to be asked:
    Why are we arming al-Qaeda?
    What will happen when our supported jihadists gain power over millions of ‘heretics’?

  7. For many years I thought the Israeli lobby was preventing the US from acting responsibly. But I had a nagging doubt because Noam Chomsky steadfastly argued that Israel was a US vassal state and it was wrong to believe Israel was the tail wagging the US dog. Over time I have come to believe that Chomsky was right. What we are seeing is a classic good cop bad cop routine. Israel is positioned as the bad cop that forces us to do bad things. According to the propaganda, dog gone it, we would like to do the right thing but that dang Israel lobby prevents that. It is just a classic con.

    Saudi Arabia is also a US vassal state. The brutal dictatorship running Saudi Arabia is totally dependent on the US for its survival. I suspect the Saudi’s are just doing what the US wants them to do. Another good cop, bad cop routine.

    The real question is why does the US want to stoke constant conflict and sectarian violence in the Mideast? Some would say embattled regimes under the treat of terrorists are easy to control? Personally, I don’t see how having easily controlled vassal states justifies the human costs. But the good cop, bad cop routines are starting to become blatant.

    • I agree with your perspective. For a long time I felt that it was the cynic in me that felt that we the US were purposely creating chaos all over the world. Now, I am convinced that it has been our policy for a while. Our strategy is very simple:
      1. Become our vassal
      2. if not, we will destroy you in any number of ways (economic, financially, militarily…)

      The consequences of this strategy have limited consequences for the power to be (not the average person) in USA. We are blessed by being an essential island. This approach has kept Europe under control…Ukraine is part of that..we have created problems for their economy, while creating military opportunities for us….
      All of ME falls in this category as does the northern half of Africa.
      China and Russia continue to present problems for us and they may yet result in our decline (or WWIII).
      In our universe the dying star become red giants before imploding!!!

    • I disagree. It is more logical that it is Israel that wants the entire Moslem world in chaos, since it doesn’t get any oil from it anyway while Wall Street oversees a global economy that must have that oil. Have you forgotten Dick Cheney’s Project for a New American Century was full of Zionist operatives, some of whom officially worked for the Likud Party on its Clean Break document before Bush was elected? That paper called for the overthrow of all the unfriendly governments in the region in the interest of Israel. Saudi Arabia also has chosen to make Iran an enemy because of its fear of its own Shia population, and perhaps a larger fear of the Arab world turning on it because of its refusal to confront Israel. Saudi Arabia and Israel may both looking to a regional war to justify the elimination of their own hostile ethnicities – knowing the US lacks the will to object. The US has actually tried to fight ISIS; Saudi Arabia and Israel both seem to feel that ISIS serves some terrifying purpose.

  8. The “tolerance” of the Baathist-Assadist state is of course an illusion. Its protection of Christian and Shi’ite minorities and its alliance with sectors of the urban Syrian population is a form of vassalage, largely intended for self-protection. It’s possible that in this epoch of extreme sectarianism, which has been accelerated by both the US occupation of Iraq and backward Saudi ideology, such a political arrangement no longer works and that, at least for the foreseeable future, Syria and Iraq will revert to a form of sectarian nationalism that will likely be preceded by bloody redistribution of populations. The Russian intrusion may just delay inevitable.

    • Yasser Tabbaa – One of the benefits of this forum is the illuminating comments such as the one made by you regarding the potential future of Syria and Iraq.

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