Terrorism in Syria
The Syrian state has been called both a victim and perpetrator of terrorism. The United States government accuses the government of Syria of sponsoring what some consider terrorism, specifically through its past and current support for such organizations as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Abu Musa Organization, and the Popular Struggle Front. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, the country was swept by multiple terrorist acts, initiated by radical anti-government Islamists and in some case the FSA. The Syrian Government was also accused of using terrorism against civilians in opposition controlled areas.
Under Hafez al-Assad
From 1976 to 1982, Sunni Islamists fought the Ba'ath Party-controlled government of Syria in what has been called "long campaign of terror". Islamists attacked both civilians and off-duty military personnel, and civilians were also killed in retaliatory strike by security forces.
The Muslim Brotherhood was blamed for the terror by the government, although the insurgents used names such as Kata'ib Muhammad (Phalanges of Muhammad, begun in Hama in 1965 Marwan Hadid) to refer to their organization.
Following Syrian occupation of Lebanon in 1976 a number of prominent Syrian officers and government servants, as well as "professional men, doctors, teachers," were assassinated. Most of the victims were Alawis, "which suggested that the assassins had targeted the community" but "no one could be sure who was behind" the killings.
Among the better known victims were:
- the commander of the Hama garrison, Colonel Ali Haydar, killed in October 1976
- the rector of Damascus University, Dr. Muhammad al-Fadl, killed in February 1977
- the commander of the missile corps, Brigadier 'Abd al Hamid Ruzzug, killed in June 1977
- the doyen of Syrian dentists, Dr Ibrahim Na'ama, killed in March 1978
- the director of police affairs at the Ministry of the Interior, Colonel Ahmad Khalil, killed in August 1978
- Public Prosecutor 'Adil Mini of the Supreme State Security Court, killed in April 1979.
- President Hafez Asad's own doctor, the neurologist Dr. Muhammad Shahada Khalil, who was killed in August 1979.
These assassinations led up to the 16 June 1979 slaughter of cadets at the Aleppo Artillery School. On that day a member of school staff, Captain Ibrahim Yusuf, assembled the cadets in the dining-hall and then let in the gunmen who opened fire on the cadets. According to the official report 32 young men were killed. Unofficial sources say the "death toll was as high as 83." This attack was the work of Tali'a muqatila, or Fighting Vanguard, a Sunni Islamist guerrilla group and spinoff of the Muslim Brotherhood. Adnan 'Uqla, who later became the group's leader, helped plan the massacre.
The cadet massacre "marked the start of full-scale urban warfare" against Alawis, cadre of the ruling Ba'ath party, party offices, "police posts, military vehicles, barracks, factories and any other target the guerrillas could attack." In the city of Aleppo between 1979 and 1981 terrorists killed over 300 people, mainly Ba'thists and Alawis, but also a dozen Islamic clergy who had denounced the murders. Of these the most prominent was Shaykh Muhammad al-Shami, who was slain in his own mosque, the Sulaymaniya, on 2 February 1980.
On 26 June 1980, the president of Syria, Hafez al-Asad, "narrowly escaped death" when attackers threw two grenades and fired machine gun bursts at him as he waited at a diplomatic function in Damascus.
On 17 June 1980, an estimated 1,152 Islamist inmates at the prison in Palmyra were massacred by the alawi-ruled government Defense companies troops. Less than a month later membership in the Muslim Brotherhood became punishable by death with a month grace period given for members to turn themselves in.
Individuals assassinated at this time include:
- Salim Lawzi, publisher of al-Hawadith, in Lebanon killed by Syrian assassins in March 1980.
- Riad Taha, head of the journalists' union in Beirut killed in July 1980.
- Wife of guide of Muslim Brothers Isam al-'Attar, (Bayan al-Tantawi) killed in Aachen, Germany as she opened the front door to assassins in July 1980. (p. 329)
- Salah al-Din Bitar, co-founder of the Ba'ath Party killed in Paris on 21 July 1980.
While the involvement of the Syrian government "was not proved" in these killings, it "was widely suspected."
According to some sources, such as Syrian president Hafez al-Asad and journalist Robert Dreyfuss, the Muslim Brotherhood insurgents in Syria were aided by the Jordanian government in cooperation with Lebanese Phalangists, South Lebanon Army, and the right-wing Israeli government of Menachem Begin, who allegedly supported, funded and armed the Muslim Brotherhood in an effort to overthrow the regime of President Assad.
We are not just dealing with killers inside Syria, but with those who masterminded their plans. The plot thickened after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and many foreign intelligence services became involved. Those who took part in Camp David used the Muslim Brothers against us.
The South Lebanese Army allegedly set up camps to help train the Muslim Brotherhood insurgents. Both Israel and Syria had troops in Lebanon and clashed over domination of that country. Syria's Arab nationalist government has supported the overthrow of the Royalist, pro-Western Jordanian government.
In 1986 a series of bombings, mainly around the capital of Damascus, caused hundreds of casualties. Iraqi Ba'athis agents were blamed for the acts.
Under Bashar al-Assad
On 28 September 2008, at least 17 people been killed and 14 hurt by a car bomb on the outskirts of Syria's capital Damascus. The target of the blast was unclear, but it struck close to an important Shia shrine and a security post.
A little more than year later (on 3 December 2009) another explosion killed at least three people when a bus blew up in a Damascus suburb. Syrian officials denied terrorism was involved.
During the Syrian civil war
The Syrian government repeatedly claimed that the actions of security forces against the Syrian civil war were a response to armed attacks by "terrorist gangs", a claim rejected by human rights groups, Western governments, and other observers.
At least 69 suicide bombings had been recorded in the conflict by the end of November 2012. The radical Islamist group Al-Nusra Front took responsibility for 57 of them. Both the government and the opposition have accused each other of perpetrating the bombings. Only "shadowy Islamist groups" (one being Al-Nusra Front), possibly affiliated with Al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility. At least one such bombing claimed to be in retaliation for Syrian government attacks on residential areas, but also struck a sectarian tone: "We tell this regime: Stop your massacres against the Sunni people. If not, you will bear the sin of the Alawites. What is coming will be more calamitous, God willing." Observers believe such groups have made inroads in Syria, capitalizing on the instability resulting from the uprising.
The Syrian regime itself has been accused of terror or state terrorism. September 5, 2012 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated, "The regime has become one of state terrorism. Syria is going through a huge humanitarian saga. Unfortunately, as usual, the international community is merely watching the slaughter, massacre and the elimination of Muslims."
Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, has accused it of terror for its "hit-and-run" assaults on civilian areas. The tactic of shelling, invading, and killing, but then retreated from civilian areas has reportedly been used in several areas ringing Damascus in July and August 2012, such as Kafar Soussa where tanks backed by infantry left at least 24 people dead before leaving, according to Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to Salem, "terror is the basic approach" of the government. "From the beginning of the uprising the logic was hit and hit hard, punish and scare," the opposite of the "winning hearts and minds" model. The New York Times journalist Damien Cave describes the regime's approach as following the saying "rule is based on awe."
Cooperation with Iraq
Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Syria on 21 January 2007 and discussed terrorism in the Middle East and the situation in Iraq. They issued a joint statement condemning "all forms of terrorism plaguing the Iraqi people and their institutions, infrastructure and security service." Assad and Talabani expressed "readiness to work together and do everything possible to eradicate terrorism."
Alleged Syrian state terrorism
Several groups and individuals have claimed that Syria engages in state sponsored terrorism.
The leaders of many of alleged terrorist groups live in Damascus, including Ramadan Shalah, the Secretary-General of Islamic Jihad; his deputy Ziad Nehaleh; Imad al-Alami, a senior Hamas operative; other leading Palestinians such as Ahmed Jibril, George Habash and Nayef Hawatmeh live in Syria.
The Syrian government itself has been accused of engaging in state sponsored terrorism by President George W. Bush and by the U.S. State Department from 1979 to today. The European Community met on 10 November 1986 to discuss the Hindawi Affair, an attempt to bomb an El Al flight out of London, and the subsequent arrest and trial in the UK of Nizar Hindawi, who allegedly received Syrian government support after the bombing, and possibly beforehand. The European response was to impose sanctions against Syria and state that these measures were intended "to send Syria the clearest possible message that what has happened is absolutely unacceptable."
However, Syria has assisted the United States and other governments in their opposition to al-Qaeda. This include Syria's efforts in stemming the flow of al-Qaeda backed fighters from crossing into Iraq along its border. (Country Reports on Terrorism, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, 27 April 2005).
In 2012, Lebanon charged former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha and a high-ranking Syrian military official with being involved in a terror plot aimed at destabilizing Lebanon. Samaha is a longtime ally, and friend, of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syria's National Security Bureau chief Maj. Gen. Ali Mamlouk. Samaha reportedly confessed to his involvement in the terror plot, and some Lebanese politicians have called to break ties with the Assad government.
During the probe, it was revealed that Syrian President Bashar Assad gave direct orders to execute terrorist attacks in Lebanon, and Michel Samaha admitted that he was working for Assad's government in trying to execute a plan to detonate explosives in Akkar, Lebanon. Samaha admitted to collaborating with General Ai al-Mamlouk, who heads the Syrian national security bureau.
Numerous assassinations of opponents of Syria and the Syrian government have been alleged to involve the Syrian government. Syria and its supporters claim that no substantial evidence has been produced to prove these allegations.
- (December 2005) Gebran Tueni, an anti-Syrian journalist and lawmaker was assassinated.
- (September 2005) May Chidiac an anti-Syrian journalist and political commentator was severely injured in an assassination attempt against her life.
- (June 2005) Samir Kassir, an anti-Syrian journalist was assassinated.
- (June 2005) George Hawi a Communist politician was assassinated.
- (February 2005) Rafik Hariri was killed by a car bomb which killed ten others. Hariri was a known opponent of the pro-Syrian policies of Émile Lahoud. The opposition parties in Lebanon accuse Syria of orchestrating the assassination.
- (October 2004) Failed assassination attempt against anti-Syrian politician Marwan Hmade. He had demanded Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.
- (May 2002) Assassination of anti-Syrian-occupation activist Ramzi Irani whose body was found in the boot of his car, nearly two weeks after his kidnapping.
- (August 1987) Assassination of Dr. Mohammad Choucair, an advisor to Lebanese President Amine Gemayel was killed inside his home in the Syrian-controlled part of West Beirut on 2 August 1987.
- (October 1986) Assassination of Sheikh Soubhi Saleh, the head of the Islamic Sunni Higher Council.
- (September 1982) Assassination of Lebanese President-elect Bashir Gemayel (1947–1982) who was killed along with many others in the bombing of his party's Beirut headquarters.
- (July 1980) Assassination of Riad Taha, a prominent journalist. (Also read recent article "Journalists and politicians pay tribute to legacy of Riad Taha" dated 23 July 2005).
- (February 1980) Assassination of Selim Lowzi, a prominent journalist who opposed the Syrian regime.
- (March 1977) Assassination of Kamal Jumblatt, a Lebanese Druze leader near a Syrian checkpoint after he publicly criticized the Syrian invasion of Lebanon.
- Syria and Terrorism United States Department of State
- Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p.336-7
- Seale, p. 322-3
- Seale, p. 316-7
- Seale, p. 317
- Seale, p. 316
- Seale, p. 325
- Seale, p. 328-9
- Seale, p. 329
- Wright, Robin, Dreams and Shadows: the Future of the Middle East, Penguin Press, 2008, p. 243
- Seale, p.334
- Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p.334-6
- Robert Dreyfuss: The Devils Game: How the United States Unleashed Fundamentalist Islam. 2005.
- source: interview with Asad, Damascus, 12 May 1985 quoted in Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p. 334-6
- "Syrian car bomb attack kills 17". BBC News. 27 September 2008. Retrieved 27 September 2008.
- Damascus Bus Bomb: 'Up To 12' Killed In Syria Explosion, Albert Aji, 3 December 2009.
- World Report 2012: Syria hrw.org
- Syria claims it has retaken key rebel village| cbsnews.com| 13 June 2012
- "UNICEF says 400 children killed in Syria unrest". Google News (Geneva). Agence France-Presse. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
- UNICEF: 500 children died in Syrian war - UPI.com
- "UNICEF says 400 children killed in Syria". The Courier-Mail. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
- Peralta, Eyder (3 February 2012). "Rights Group Says Syrian Security Forces Detained, Tortured Children: The Two-Way". NPR. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
- Militant video claims deadly Syria bombings By BEN HUBBARD | Associated Press |12 May 2012
- Turkey accuses Syria of 'state terrorism' By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press| 5 September 2012
- Syrian Forces Are Said to Expand Deadly ‘Hit and Run’ Efforts in Damascus| By DAMIEN CAVE| 22 August 2012
- Assad pledges to work with Iraq in anti-terrorism fight Gulf Times
- Syria's Links to Terrorism Compiled for the Online NewsHour by David Butterworth for PBS Posted: 9 March 2005.
- 1986: On this day 24 October 1986: UK cuts links with Syria over bomb plot by BBC Stories From 24 October
- The Hindawi Case: Syrian Connexions. Background Brief by ICT Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, 1 November 1986
- Hussein Dakroub (13 August 2012). "Military launches Samaha probe". The Daily Star. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
- "Probe reveals Syria’s Assad behind Lebanon terrorism plot". Al Arabiya. Ya Libnan. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
- Director-General condemns assassination of Lebanese newspaper editor Gebran Tueni: UNESCO-CI
- Foreign Correspondent - 08/08/2006: Beirut - May Chidiac
- Who Killed Samir Kassir? By Robert Fisk
- Syria and International Terrorism blog site called cedarland. Seems to have a lot about Lebanon on the site
- The Daily Star - Politics - Journalists and politicians pay tribute to legacy of Riad Taha
- "Terrorism: The Syrian Connection", by Daniel Pipes
- U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism List (5B)
- Syrian terrorist incidents