Tag Archives: Jabhat al-Nusra

The use and abuse of Syrian Christians

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Ana Maria Luca

On 12 February, after a Jabhat al-Nusra suicide attack on a bus carrying Shiite pilgrims in Damascus that killed six and wounded 19, the Syrian Army raised checkpoints throughout the area, and together with Hezbollah cordoned off Shiite shrines in the city.

 

But when the Islamic State (ISIS) kidnapped 220 Assyrian Christians from northeastern Syriain the past few days, nobody rushed to defend them. The kidnappings were carried out during the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) anti-ISIS campaign in Tel Tamr, where some of their fighters were also captured.

 

Apparently, the White House and some other chanceries in the West aware of such things. In September last year, US President Barack Obama reportedly told a delegation of Eastern Christian patriarchs that the Syrian government “protected Christians in Syria.” Whether he was being sarcastic, or he genuinely believed this to be true, it was a slap in the face for Syrian Christians.

 

Nobody really defends their community or their churches; there are very few secular rebels who understand the political value of doing so.

 

Otherwise, how is that ISIS kidnaps 220 Christians, but has never been able to take 220 Shiite or 220 Alawites hostage?

 

The Christians in Syria are definitely a target for the Islamic State. No one doubts it. The kidnapping and execution of 220 Syrian Army soldiers would not make headlines in mainstream media the way 220 kidnapped Christians would. But it’s also an interesting strategy for the Syrian-Iranian alliance to use the Christian community in Syria as bait.

 

Syria’s Christians, as a community, did not get involved in the Syrian civil war. They did not form a militia to fight against or with the regime. There were, indeed, Christians supporting the political opposition; Syrian Christians in exile are working to help Syrian refugees, setting up websites and Facebook pages to counter the regime’s propaganda.   Some Syrian Christians felt oppressed by the Assad regime, especially its police state.

 

Nevertheless, supporting the Sunnis in their anti-Assad regime movement was not an option either. They were not devoted Assad supporters, but they were afraid. In conflict, the communities that take a neutral stance are usually the first to be attacked in a civil war — simply because nobody protects them.

 

Other than a small number of Kurdish fighters, nobody protected the Christians of Hasakah. The Kurds picked up weapons and fought to protect their own community — they were between taking and not taking sides. The Christians, with very few exceptions, did not. Most of them believed that the Assad regime and the state’s army would defend them, since they were a minority group that did not create problems for the government.

 

But in fact, the regime has been using them to prove to the West that their government is a better option than the opposition. Attacking, kidnapping and killing Christians in Syria has always made headlines in Western media.

 

The Syrian government’s strategy became clear in the summer of 2013, during the siege of Maaloula, a Christian town 60 kilometers north of Damascus. Syrian rebel brigades captured it because of its strategic location close to the main road that links Damascus and Homs. But Maaloula was even more valuable for a different type of strategy: damaging the image of the rebels.

 

Rumors began to circulate that Al-Qaeda-linked rebels were seeking to force Christians to leave Syria because they wouldn’t join them in fighting Assad loyalist forces. But the battle of Maaloula made things worse. Many of the town’s residents fled to Damascus. The media was told that Nusra Front fighters had desecrated churches when it kidnapped 12 nuns from a monastery (although journalists were unable to verify reports of desecration).

 

“The town’s residents fled in a hurry to Damascus when the rebels first moved in. They are very upset and angry about what happened,” BBC’s Jeremy Bowen reported at the time. “Some told me that when they left, the Al-Nusra Front desecrated some of their churches. There is quite a bit of damage to the town, but I can’t see considerable damage to the holy places. In fact, I can see a big statue of the Virgin Mary that is very much intact.” The nuns of the Maaloula monastery were released in a prisoner swap with the Syrian government, but they said they were never harmed by the rebels.

 

Since then, the Nusra Front has been very careful when dealing with the Christian community. The al-Qaeda-linked rebels kidnapped a priest and 20 members of his parish in October 2014 over a property dispute, but they were released within days unharmed.

 

The Islamic State is another matter. The jihadists have been ruthless with other sects and the Christians, who don’t have their own militia to defend themselves, have been easy prey. Executions in northern Iraq, especially after the fall of Mosul, also boosted the group’s fame for ruthlessness and excessive cruelty.

 

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child released a report last year, which revealed that ISIS was systematically killing, torturing, raping, beheading, crucifying, and burying alive children and families from the Yazidi sect and Christian communities.

This was terrible news for the Western world, but great news for the Iranian-Syrian alliance. News like this proves their propagandizing that the Syrian rebels, as a whole, are barbaric jihadists who want to eliminate all groups except Sunnis. Where the Nusra Front failed, ISIS succeeded.

 

The West is terrified, and that is what both groups wanted from the beginning. The abuse of Christians is a great marketing strategy for both the Islamic State and the Syrian-Iranian alliance. The Islamic State proves to fanatics worldwide that massacring Christians is possible, and they also entice other affiliated groups to do the same. The Syrian-Iranian alliance can also grin, because this way, they prove to the West that they’re the “better choice.”

 

After all, the massacre of 10 children in Ratyan didn’t make such big waves.

 

 

 Ana Maria Luca tweets @aml1609

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Al Qaeda Opens Syrian Jihad School

Al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra opens school for jihad in southern Syria, for children aged 10 to 15.

 

Syrian jihad school

Syrian jihad school
Screenshot

Jabhat Al Nusra, an Islamist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, maintains an infrastructure of governance as one of the central opposition forces. Aside from managing religious courts based on Islamic sharia law, the group has opened new schooling programs emphasizing Islam and jihad.

In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, a school established by the organization teaches roughly 30 students ranging in age from 10 to 15 to believe in Allah, follow Islam, and aspire to jihad holy war.

Video footage from the school shows students learning by rote passages from the Koran, reading “our path is the path of jihad.”

The use of child soldiers by rebel forces, including the more “moderate” Free Syrian Army (FSA), has been documented, and shows how the lessons learned in the school may quickly be turned into action.

On the walls of the classroom hang posters featuring verses from the Koran, including one praising jihadist “martyrs,” explaining that they aren’t “dead” but rather “living” with Allah.

One of the teachers explains that the students learn how to use weapons and are prepared to become jihadists. Video can be seen here:

The Islamist nature of the Syrian opposition forces has been a point of contention, with Russia recently claiming the West understands Syrian President Bashar Assad is “better” than the rebels.

The Russian comment came after Islamic Front battalions, which call for an Islamic state, took over warehouses held by the more secular FSA in early December, leading the US and Britain to suspend military funding to rebel factions.

Geneva II peace talks, aiming to end the 3 year conflict that has claimed over 100,000 lives and created over 2 million refugees, are set for January 22.

#Lebanon: Here comes Jabhat al-Nusra

Alex Rowell

The Syrian al-Qaeda franchise leader’s claim to have established a formal presence in Lebanon might not be entirely true, say analysts, but is still ominous nonetheless

Jabhat al-Nusra members take part in parade calling for an Islamic state in Aleppo, October 25, 2013

The recent assertion by the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, the official Syrian franchise of al-Qaeda, that the militant group has now formally established a presence in Lebanon appears to have confirmed fears – already fuelled by over a dozen deadly attacks and explosions, including suicide bombings – that the violent extremism engulfing Syria poses a growing danger to its small western neighbor.

Just days before Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani made his claim during his first-ever interview, videos circulated online showing a group calling itself “Jabhat al-Nusra in Lebanon” firing Grad rockets at the northeastern Beqaa town of Hermel, resulting in three injuries. And on Monday, unconfirmed reports emerged of Hezbollah ambushing and killing dozens of Jabhat al-Nusra gunmen in a border region east of Baalbek.

Despite these incidents, however, security analysts told NOW Jabhat al-Nusra’s presence in Lebanon likely took the form of only a few, geographically scattered individuals, rather than a physical base or a unified battalion.

“I doubt that Jabhat al-Nusra, or any terrorist organization, really has an official representation in Lebanon,” said Nizar Abd al-Qader, a former Lebanese army general. “Though I feel that in some places there are probably some individuals who sympathize with it or have been fighting along with them in certain battles, either in Iraq or Syria.”

“This needs to be verified. Jawlani’s statement is not enough,” concurred Riad Kahwaji, founder and CEO of the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), who nevertheless added that it would be unsurprising if it turned out to be true.

“Lebanon to start with is a country with a very weak central government. It also borders Syria, and we have today over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. So I would not be surprised if a few of them were with Jabhat al-Nusra or sympathized with them.”

One likely source of Jabhat al-Nusra support is the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh in the southern city of Sidon, according to Abd al-Qader. Sidon was the scene of deadly twin attacks on army checkpoints earlier this month by Lebanese and Palestinian militants. It also saw a two-day-long gun and rocket battle in June between the army and partisans of the Islamist cleric Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir, who is himself now rumored to be in Ain al-Hilweh. The camp has been known in the past to host fugitive militants from a variety of Islamist factions, including al-Qaeda affiliates.

Indeed, one prominent Islamist in the camp confirmed to NOW that there exist supporters not just of Jabhat al-Nusra, but of Syrian opposition groups of all stripes, though he too stressed that these were individuals rather than organizations.

“I am certain that we don’t have an official presence of Jabhat al-Nusra in the camp,” said Sheikh Jamal Khattab, leader of the Islamic Mujahid Movement. “No group has pledged allegiance (bay’aa) to Jabhat al-Nusra. But yes, people are sympathetic to them because of their achievements against the regime in Syria. There are even non-Islamists in the camp who support them for this reason.”

Another key reason for this comparative popularity, and the resultant decision by Jabhat al-Nusra to move into Lebanon, is Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria, analysts and Khattab agreed.

“Hezbollah decided to intervene and be a major player in Syria, and therefore Jabhat al-Nusra has expanded and is now spreading into Lebanon. It’s natural to find combatants from Syria getting involved in the Lebanese scene as well. You can’t expect to go to a troubled place and not bring the trouble back home with you,” said Kahwaji.

And perhaps the great concern, said analysts and Khattab, was that this “trouble” would not be easily contained or banished.

“The Tripoli and Dahiyeh and Iranian embassy bombings prove that the battle already started in Lebanon,” said Khattab.

“It is extremely difficult to deal with individuals acting like guided smart missiles. Suicide attackers are elusive, they live among the people, and when their sympathizers are growing, they become even harder to combat or preempt,” said Kahwaji.

“This is what we have right now. This is one of the major negative consequences of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria.”

Luna Safwan contributed reporting.