Syria's Assad exports Islamists to Iraq, prevents unrest at home

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

LONDON -- The Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad has pursued a policy of exporting Islamic unrest to neighboring Iraq.

Islamic sources in contact with opposition groups in Syria said the Assad regime has encouraged Islamic insurgents to relocate in Iraq and fight the U.S.-led coalition in that country. The sources said Assad has assured these insurgents safe passage to and from Iraq in an effort to prevent Islamic unrest in his country.

Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed, a Syrian native and Islamic exile in London, said Assad's policy has been successful, Middle East Newsline reported. Mohammed, founder of the Al Qaida-inspired Al Muhajiroun, pointed out that Islamic insurgents have not attacked the Syrian regime in about 20 years.

In June, Syria reported an Islamic attack in Damascus, but Western intelligence agencies have raised doubts.

"That is because they [Islamic insurgents] are busy elsewhere, particularly in Iraq," Mohammed said in an interview to the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation.

Mohammed said the armed Islamic opposition in Syria has become linked to Al Qaida. He said these insurgents no longer threaten the Assad regime while the Muslim Brotherhood has ended its opposition activities.

Other Islamic sources in London familiar with Syria said the Assad regime pressed Islamic opposition elements to travel to other Muslim states such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Jordan and Sudan. The sources said that over the last 18 months, the Assad regime has provided logistical support for the Islamists to volunteer in Iraq for operations against the United States.

Mohammed, who was expelled from Saudi Arabia in the mid-1990s, said the tactics of the Assad regime have led to the undermining of the Islamic opposition in Syria. He said the leading Islamic opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has changed course and now seeks to become part of the government.

"There is still some opposition, but the Brotherhood itself can no longer be regarded as a true opposition force," Mohammed said. "They have now entered into dialogue and discussion with the regime. They are becoming a state party."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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