[Marxism] Fwd: The Jihad Next Door - Rania Abouzeid - POLITICO Magazine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jun 28 05:53:34 MDT 2014

It began, in mid-2011, with the Syrian regime’s suspicious release of 
hundreds of jihadis from prison—a move that served Assad’s strategy of 
presenting the uprising at once as a plot by Islamist extremists, agents 
of Israel and the West and a small number of disillusioned citizens with 
legitimate gripes who had fallen prey to “foreign conspirators.” It also 
played, unwittingly or not, into Golani’s hands.

The truth was that al Qaeda had never really been an established 
presence in Syria. Historically, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and its 
more violently sectarian offshoot, the Fighting Vanguard, were the 
country’s most prominent Islamist organizations. In the mid-1970s, they 
were at the forefront of a radical Sunni insurgency against the secular 
government of Bashar’s father, Hafez al-Assad. But by 1982 they had been 
effectively extinguished in Syria, after the February massacre of as 
many as 20,000 people in the central city of Hama. Membership in the 
Brotherhood was made a capital offense, prompting most of those who 
survived the purge to flee overseas. Several hundred were tossed into 
the notorious Sednaya military prison, some 20 miles north of the 
capital Damascus, and forgotten.

Syria’s main association with al Qaeda came later, when it served as a 
key transit route for jihadis entering Iraq to fight coalition troops 
after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. According to a cache of al Qaeda in 
Iraq personnel files captured in 2007 in the Iraqi border town of 
Sinjar, every single one of the 600-plus foreign fighters in the records 
had entered Iraq from Syria. Some, including top U.S. officials, have 
concluded that the Syrian government was complicit in the movement of 
these men through its territory, and that in so doing it achieved two 
objectives—domestically, it (temporarily) rid itself of potential 
threats from homegrown Islamists, and regionally, it would help hobble 
an American force that might turn its attention to Syria next.

In 2004 and 2005, some of these battle-hardened Syrian jihadis started 
returning home. Their arrival coincided with a spate of small bombings 
and shootouts with security forces, which continued over the next few 
years. Many of those who were captured were placed in the three-story 
Sednaya military prison. The Brotherhood men who had been detained in 
the ‘70s and ‘80s were on the second floor. The 400 or so more recent 
jihadis lived in isolation on the third floor, in an area the inmates 
termed “the black door” because the men behind it were so cut off from 
other inmates.Their jailers called it the al Qaeda wing. On March 15, 
2011—the date widely considered the start of the Syrian revolution, when 
thousands took to the country’s streets to call for greater 
freedoms—another 300 Islamists were transferred from a detention center 
in Damascus to Sednaya.


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