“Moderate” Australian Imam Named in Syria Arms Trafficking Operation

By Chris Ray | Originally posted on The Investigative Journal

Above featured image of Fedaa Majzoub

A “Mainstream” Imam in Australia

Thousands of citizens from the West travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for al-Qaeda and ISIS – often in breach of their own countries’ foreign fighter laws. Lately, the spotlight has been on followers of ISIS who await their fate following the collapse of the caliphate. Others may have broken laws by contributing to the conflict away from the battlefield yet received little or no scrutiny. Fedaa Majzoub, nominally an Australian, is a case in point.

A major and problematic player in the Syrian drama, he has been almost forgotten until this year, with the publication of an explosive Turkish police report linking top officials in the Erdogan administration with an arms trafficking network headed by an al-Qaeda associate.

Written in 2012 and published by the Stockholm-based Nordic Monitor in January, the police report claims the network funnelled weapons from Libya to Syria via Turkey.

It alleges that an otherwise-unidentified Fedaa Majzoub was a member of the network and was also connected with two of Erdogan’s senior advisors.

Fedaa Majzoub is a not-uncommon name and neither the police report nor Nordic Monitor identified Majzoub’s nationality or roles outside the alleged arms network.

Above: Fedaa Majzoub

The Investigative Journal can reveal that Fedaa Majzoub is a prominent Australian imam who worked as a university lecturer in Sydney before becoming official spokesperson for the Syrian National Council (SNC), a rebel political front based in Turkey.

The police allegations against Dr Majzoub indicate the supposedly moderate SNC worked with al-Qaeda operatives. The allegations also suggest the SNC may have served as a bridge between the al-Qaeda network and senior Turkish officials.

Today, Dr Majzoub lives in Istanbul as a low-profile lecturer in the faculty of theology at Marmara University, where TIJ contacted him. In our interview via email and WhatsApp, he denied any involvement in arms trafficking. His statements are the only public comment by any of the 14 people named in the police report.

A decade ago, Syrian-born and educated Dr Majzoub was a high-profile imam regarded as one of Australia’s leading Muslim scholars. He worked as an adjunct lecturer in Islamic studies at Charles Sturt University and served in the trusted role of prison chaplain.

Dr Majzoub, now 51, was known as an advocate of inter-faith dialogue who “built bridges” with local police. He was a member of the Australian National Imams Council’s Fatwa Board – which issues guidelines on Islamic law – and had a regular slot on Islamic radio tackling “contemporary issues and challenges facing Australian Muslims.”

Dr Majzoub’s comfort with contemporary Australian society was questionable, however. Though his family reportedly moved to Australia in 1985, when he was a teenager, he subsequently spent about 15 years studying and teaching at Islamic universities in Egypt, India and Syria.

In doing so, he was following in the footsteps of his father Hassan, who was educated in Saudi Arabia before serving as an imam in the Latakia region of western Syria, Dr Majzoub’s birthplace.

On returning to Australia, Dr Majzoub lived and worked in Sydney’s western suburbs, which hold Australia’s largest concentration of Muslim immigrants, and his English remains less than fluent.

His foreign religious studies may have equipped him with the knowledge and authority to preach at Australia’s mosques but he sometimes seemed out of touch with Australian values: In 2009, he described a Sydney drug dealer and gang member, involved in the theft of military rocket launchers, as a “good father, husband and citizen”.

In 2011, as Syria plunged into chaos and war, Dr Majzoub relocated to Turkey, which was turning into a support base for the rebellion against president Bashar al-Assad. Dr Majzoub soon emerged as spokesperson for the SNC, whose powerful foreign supporters initially included US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Emir of Qatar.

Erdogan also publicly backed the SNC while giving covert support to forces affiliated with al-Qaeda and later, ISIS. As former US vice president Joe Biden complained, Turkish authorities sent money and weapons to “anyone who would fight against Assad.”

Though the SNC presented itself as the moderate face of the Syrian uprising it contained a powerful Islamist component including the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The SNC served as the political front for the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) – a label applied to a loose network of armed groups without a unified command structure.

Dr Majzoub shuttled between his home in Istanbul, rebel bases in northern Syria and peace conferences in the capitals of Europe. As the only Australian member of the SNC, he spoke at anti-Assad rallies in Sydney and Melbourne, where the Syrian president’s imminent overthrow was widely predicted.

Sydney Morning Herald reporter who came across Dr Majzoub in northern Syria in 2012 said he was a regular visitor to rebel-controlled zones. He reportedly acted as SNC representative to FSA units and facilitated talks between rebel groups.

But by the end of 2014, Assad remained firmly entrenched, the SNC was a fractured, irrelevant spectator to the struggle and Dr Majzoub had disappeared from news coverage of the war.

Disturbing Allegations

The Turkish police report that has lifted Dr Majzoub out of obscurity – and challenged his reputation as a moderate – is said to have been written by officers of the Turkish National Police Intelligence Department.

Dated September 26, 2012, it includes barcoded attachments apparently produced by the Turkish National Intelligence Organisation MIT and dated August 6, 2012.

Dr Majzoub told this writer in February that he “utterly” denied any involvement with weapons trafficking “in Syria or anywhere else”. He called the report’s contents “lies and fabrication.”

Australian sanctions law has prohibited the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to Syria since 2011.

Dr Ahmet Yayla, director of the Center for Homeland Security at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and a faculty member of Georgetown University in Washington, DC, gave this writer a copy of the police report and backs its authenticity.

Dr Yayla served 20 years with the Turkish National Police Department of Counter-Terrorism and Operations and was counter-terrorism chief in Turkey’s Sanliurfa province, bordering Syria, between 2010 and 2013. He resigned from the police force in 2014 over the Erdogan administration’s facilitation of the so-called “jihadi highway” through Sanliurfa to Syria.

Dr Yayla cited the report in a May 2019 study of the IHH charity. He said he got it from a trusted former Turkish police officer. “It is definitely genuine,” he added.

Dr Yayla said the document provided to him was circulated for internal police information and discussion. It includes alleged wiretap transcripts and was based on the bugging and mapping of phone communications which “allowed the police to make a hierarchy of who is in touch with whom,” he said.

The report includes a relationship diagram connecting Dr Majzoub and four other men with Libyan citizen Abdaladim Ali Mossa Ben Ali.

Ben Ali is described as being involved in a plan by the Al-Qaeda in Iraq organisation – a predecessor of ISIS – to transport weapons from Libya to Syria via Turkey. Ben Ali was also “acting in connection with” the FSA, the document claimed.

The relationship diagram included the alleged roles and phone numbers of group members. Describing Dr Majzoub’s role as “weapons supply”, it listed his Turkish mobile phone number. Dr Majzoub used the same phone number to send WhatsApp messages to this writer.

The document claimed Dr Majzoub also had contact with Ali Musa Abdallah Al Jaburi “who was preparing to send weapons to the opposition in Syria”.

Dr Majzoub’s Denial

Dr Majzoub told this writer he never had any contact with Ben Ali, Al Jaburi or any other people named as part of the Ben Ali group. He said he believed he was named in the police report because he was a “well-known public figure” in the Syrian opposition and had “a wide range of contacts”.

However, weakening this argument, the report does not mention Dr Majzoub’s Australian identity or SNC connection. It provides Dr Majzoub’s name and phone number only.

Dr Majzoub said he believed the police report had only surfaced now because of the “current involvement of Turkish government in the Libyan conflict”. Turkey has sent Syrian mercenaries and its own troops to fight in Libya’s civil war.

Dr Majzoub told this writer he was “hosted and welcomed” as an SNC representative in Libya by its National Transitional Council – a short-lived de facto government – in 2012. He did not reply to questions about his trip to Libya, but hesaid foreign fighters and ideologies had proven to be “a destroying machine to the Syrian revolution… against Assad dictatorship. This is my believe (sic), and what I was warning Syrian revolution about.”

Dr Majzoub also did not reply to questions about the accuracy of a separate diagram in the police report showing eight men claimed to be his contacts. They included FSA deputy commander Malek Kurdi and senior officials of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked charity IHH, which reportedly helped to transfer Libyan weapons to Syria in 2012.

Also named as Dr Majzoub’s contacts were Ibrahim Kalin and Sefer Turan, senior advisors to then-prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been Turkey’s president since late 2014. Kalin is now presidential spokesperson and Turan is Erdogan’s chief advisor.

Abdullah Bozkurt, author of the Nordic Monitor expose describes Sefer Turan as a “very radical” supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“He speaks Arabic very well and has been the key figure in coordinating the traffic between Erdogan and Arab groups across the Middle East. He’s a VIP guy,” Mr. Bozkurt told TIJ.

Dr Majzoub also argued that parts of the report made no sense. In an email he asked: “Would the MIT – a very loyal body to President Erdogan – work against the president, his advisers and spy on them to the extent of criminalising them? Would it shoot itself in the foot?”

In fact, Erdogan’s advisers are named as Dr Majzoub’s contacts in the police report, not in its MIT attachments. Dr Yayla explained that MIT would sometimes provide police with details of “weapons movements and other terrorist activities even if MIT considers them friendly. If MIT doesn’t share intelligence, it can become a liability for them.”

Dr Yayla also pointed out that Erdogan did not consolidate personal control over the national police force until late 2014, after purging the top officers of key departments including intelligence, counterterrorism and organised crime.

Dr Yayla said the police report’s claim that al-Qaeda figures were “operating in connection with” the Free Syrian Army was credible. “The FSA was big and not well organised and did not receive any training,” he said. “When al-Qaeda showed up in the region they had the discipline and knowledge and were very well organised. So, it was easy for them to infiltrate the FSA and use them.”

Maybe Not So Moderate

In addition to his membership in the SNC, Dr Majzoub was the spokesperson for the Syrian Islamic Council (SIC) when it formed in 2014 with the goal of becoming the chief Sunni religious authority for the divided opposition to Assad. Four years later, around March 2018 the SIC issued a fatwa or religious decree justifying the killing of Kurdish fighters by Turkish-backed jihadists. They committed atrocities when they invaded Afrin in March 2018.

Dr Majzoub told this writer he no longer held the position of SIC spokesperson. He supplied a 2019 letter from a World Council of Churches official, Michel Nseir, praising his role in building “dialogue and cooperation” among Syrian Muslims and Christians “who share the values of democracy and human rights”.

Nevertheless, Dr Majzoub featured in several controversial incidents after casting his lot with the Syrian opposition in 2011.

He accused Australian authorities of compromising the security of his contacts inside and outside Syria when they searched and questioned him and his brother Sheikh Mustapha at Sydney airport on two occasions in 2012.

Mustapha became the first Australian known to have died in the conflict, in northern Syria in August 2012, and Dr Majzoub presided over his funeral.

Sheikh Mustapha was killed in a rocket attack while doing “humanitarian and charity work”, according to his family and an Australian Islamic community spokesman.

However, statements and Facebook posts by rebel supporters and Sheikh Mustapha himself suggested he probably died in combat. He was already “on the radar of security services as an extremist preacher” and was “a staunch recruiter for the Syrian rebellion”.

Above: Sheikh Mustapha Al Majzoub the deceased brother of Fedaa Majzoub

Though born in Saudi Arabia, where his father Hassan studied Islam, Sheikh Mustapha spoke better English and seemed more familiar with mainstream Australian culture than his older brother. Colleagues described Mustapha as a “highly respected and much-loved” teacher at a Sydney Islamic school.

However, in a speech at his son’s memorial service in Sydney, Hassan Majzoub said Mustapha’s “love of jihad” was due to the time they spent together in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Some of Sheikh Mustapha’s Australian lectures shared on YouTube cast the Syrian conflict in purely sectarian terms, asserting that non-Muslims (a reference to Syria’s secular regime) must not be allowed to rule over Muslims.

And in an excited Facebook post from Syria, he reported: “Allah Akbar Allah Akbar 72 from the shabeeha (loyal alawaite [sic] supporters) have just been captured in the Kurd mountain in Latakia. It’s going off everywhere here Allah Akbar.” One of his Facebook followers asked, chillingly: “Have they been slaughtered yet?”

In December 2013, Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi accused Dr Majzoub of involvement in the kidnapping of women and children during a rebel massacre of civilians in Latakia four months earlier.

Human Rights Watch found that rebels killed at least 190 civilians and seized over 200 — mostly women and children — as hostages in a “coordinated, planned attack on the civilian population” of undefended villages inhabited by members of the minority Alawite sect. The attack was launched from the town of Salma, near the Turkish border, where Mustapha Majzoub was killed the previous year.

Mr. Al-Zoubi claimed the Australian government was “well aware” of Dr Majzoub’s role in the incident but had “turned a blind eye and done nothing about it. This man is now present in Europe and working in Europe, and none of the European governments have done anything about it.” This may have been a reference to Dr Majzoub’s reported presence in Paris and London in preparation for the now-defunct, UN-backed “Geneva II” peace conference on Syria.

Al-Zoubi offered no evidence of Dr Majzoub’s involvement beyond a reference to his alleged use of “Australian telephone networks” during the Latakia offensive; Dr Majzoub denied any involvement. He was “the respected Aussie imam smeared by the Assad regime,” a newspaper headline declared.

However, 17 months after the massacre, Dr Majzoub appeared as a negotiator between the Syrian government and rebels who still held most of the kidnapped women and children. The pro-opposition news website Zaman al-Wasl said Dr Majzoub had been “accepted by rebels to bring the humanitarian tragedy to an end” by negotiating a prisoner swap.

Dr Majzoub also made a media appearance in relation to an attack on the Armenian-majority town of Kessab in northern Syria in March 2014. The rebel groups that assaulted the town and burned its churches included an al-Qaeda affiliate.

According to the government-controlled Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah, which sympathised with Syrian rebels, Dr Majzoub organised the “evacuation” (Armenian sources called it kidnapping) of a group of elderly Kessab Armenians to Turkey, where they featured in Turkish government propaganda.

The paper quoted Dr Majzoub as saying:

“We captured the town as a part of our war strategy…We helped the old people and sent them to Turkey.”

Dr Majzoub did not respond when the author of this investigation asked if he was accurately quoted.

Confirmation that Dr Majzoub is the individual named by Turkish police is a significant development in an unfolding tale of arms trafficking from Libya to Syria via Turkey. It broadens allegations of involvement beyond al-Qaeda related extremists to include the “moderate” wing of the Syrian insurgency – and alleges collusion between both camps.

Dr Majzoub confirmed to TIJ that he travelled to Libya but did not answer questions about his activities there. He denied any involvement with arms trafficking or the Ben Ali group.

Dr Majzoub was the only person named in the police report as playing a role in the Ben Ali group while also being in touch with influential members of the Erdogan administration. It seems police were monitoring his phone calls with Erdogan’s aides. If not weapons transfers, what did they discuss?

These developments revive earlier questions over Dr Majzoub and the SNC’s relationship to rebel forces who, with cross-border support from Turkey, carried out atrocities against Alawite and Armenian civilians, among others.

With Turkish authorities implicated in all these events it is unlikely Dr Majzoub will be required to explain his role any time soon.

Appendix

A Turkish police intelligence report, intended for internal circulation, revealed links between the members of Libyan jihadist Ben Ali group and then-Prime Minister and now President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Leader Ben Ali worked closely with Fedaa Majzoub, who was in touch with Erdoğan’s Chief advisors at the time İbrahim Kalın currently serving as presidential spokesperson and Sefer Turan now working as chief presidential advisor while arranging the movement of foreign fighters and the supply of weapons.

These classified intelligence documents reveal how the group of jihadist Ben Ali group led by Abdaladim Ali Mossa Ben Ali, a Libyan citizen with close ties to al‐Qaeda actively transferred foreign fighters and weapons from Libya to Syria through Turkey. The police report included classified documents from the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) that revealed intelligence on al-Qaeda in Libya connections to Turkey starting from July 2012.

A secret document dated July 18, 2012 leaked from the Turkish intelligence agency MIT shows how al-Qaeda had been moving arms and fighters to Syria through Turkey.




War or peace: Erdogan’s decision on Idlib

Source: Mideast Discourse
Steven Sahiounie, political commentator

Turkish backed terrorists, following Radical Islam, which is a political ideology, have shot down a Syrian military helicopter in Idlib on Tuesday. The battlefield of Idlib sits poised for imminent war. President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad would pay a “very heavy price” for attacking Turkish troops, as he threatened war against Syria after five Turkish soldiers were killed on Monday and an additional eight earlier.

The situation rose to a fever pitch on Monday as the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) attacked an observation post manned by the Turkish Army in Taftanaz, northeast of Idlib. The SAA is on a mission to clear the Idlib province of all Al Qaeda linked terrorists, which are backed by Erdogan, and others. In addition to the terrorists who occupy Idlib, Turkey has sent into Idlib large numbers of Turkish soldiers, as well as Syrian armed militias living in Turkey, such as the Syrian National Army (SNA) and the Syrian Liberation Front (SLF). Turkey is an invasion force, while the SAA fights to defend their country.

Witnesses on the border reported large convoys of Turkish military hardware, troops, and armored vehicles crossing into Syria in an almost continuous procession.

The terrorists and their Turkish backers have insisted on using the civilians as a bargaining chip in the battles. Turkey, the UN, and most of the international community warn of a humanitarian disaster if the civilians are driven north from Idlib during battles to regain control of Idlib, the last remaining area in Syria under terrorist control. For weeks, the Syrian Red Crescent ambulances, food trucks, and green buses sat empty and waiting along the humanitarian corridor of exit from Idlib, and an only small number came out and told of being threatened by the terrorists and generally prevented from escaping their occupation to safe areas in Syria.

The Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria was Jibhat al Nusra, and when they entered the cluttered Syrian battlefield in 2013, they were soon recognized as the fiercest and most violent of all the armed fighting groups. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by the USA had failed to garner civilian support of their Jihad for “Regime Change”, and failed to recruit Syrian civilians to take up arms and join their ranks. After Jibhat al Nusra arrived, the FSA either joined their ranks or deserted the cause and migrated to Germany in the summer of 2015 exodus.

The US and others designated Jibhat al Nusra as a terrorist organization, which made supporting them an illegal act and punishable. Jibhat al Nusra then re-branded as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and is supported by Turkey and other countries. HTS has worked with ISIS in certain instances in the past.

Idlib is the last terrorist occupied area in Syria, and the only region to have been under their control since 2012. Designated as a de-escalation zone in 2017, terrorists who refused to lay down their arms in battle zones across Syria were given the option of peacefully leaving on Green Buses to Idlib.

The civilians trapped in Idlib are in many cases, there by choice. The Green Buses offered as an alternative to resuming their past lives across Syria, was offered to armed terrorists and their immediate family, extended family, and others who share the Muslim Brotherhood dogma, which seeks to establish an Islamic ‘utopia’ in Syria. Some of these civilians are Syrian and some are Chinese citizens, who were imported personally by Erdogan, as his secret “Turkic” weapon. They are ethnic Uyghurs from China, who are a member of the Jihadist group Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP).

The original Idlib residents are scattered: some to Europe, some to Turkey, some to Latakia and the safety of the coast. Those homeowners, landowners and business owners of Idlib who are living as refugees, or displaced persons, are following events in Idlib and hoping to return one day and take up their rightful possessions, and begin anew.

Leila has been living in Latakia since 2012, and cleaning houses to support her family. Her husband had been a farmer in Idlib, but when the terrorists arrived they began planting land mines in farmland, and civilians were killed while farming. Leila and her family left Idlib and have never gone back. “Our land and olive trees are waiting for us. Our house was probably used by the terrorists, but we hope we can reclaim it one day,” she said.

In 2018 an agreement was reached between Turkey and Russia, and Turkey promised to remove all Al Qaeda terrorists, and to move all unarmed civilians to safe areas, thus separating the innocent, from the guilty. Russia promised to assist the SAA in fighting terrorists, which is part of the global war on terror.

However, Turkey never fulfilled their promise to the agreement, which made the situation unsustainable. In early 2019 Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov commented on the Turkish-Russian agreement about Idlib, and the disturbing news that some Western countries wanted to preserve Idlib as a safe-haven for terrorists. “There’s been news that some Western countries wish to do precisely that. They want this enclave where Jabhat al-Nusra (terrorist group outlawed in Russia) controls more than 90% of the territory to become a participant in the future political process,” Lavrov stated at a news conference. “It is clear that there can be no talks with terrorists. Our Western counterparts have repeatedly demonstrated double standards, so I cannot rule out that the information I’ve mentioned is well-founded.”

A Russian delegation headed by Sergey Vershinin, deputy minister of foreign affairs in charge of Syrian affairs, and Alexander Lavrentiev, the special envoy of the Russian presidency to Syria, met with Turkish officials in Ankara recently on two occasions but failed to agree.

The Turkish are waiting for a visit from James Jeffrey, the US special representative for Syria, on Wednesday before announcing a plan to reclaim territories the Syrian government has taken over since December last year.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said earlier that the Russian and Turkish militaries had again attempted to declare a ceasefire, but terrorists just stepped up their attacks. In response, the Syrian army launched a counterattack against the terrorists

Turkey set up 12 observation posts in Idlib province after an agreement with Russia in 2018; however, recently three of the observation posts were surrounded by SAA. Turkey invaded Syria and insisted on establishing military outposts, which were supposed to be observation towers, to facilitate their promised plan to separate terrorists from unarmed civilians. This ruse was effectively used by Turkey to dig-in and defend the terrorists, who follow the same Muslim Brotherhood ideology as does President Erdogan, and his AK Party.

Turkey hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and insists it cannot take in any more. “Russia and Assad are still pushing ahead with this offensive despite the fact Ankara has reiterated its red lines because they underestimate how vital stability in Idlib is for Turkey. Keeping the border shut is a huge national security concern,” said Dareen Khalifa, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.

In late 2019 the Syrian government announced a strategic goal to recapture and secure the M4 highway, linking the international Port of Latakia, with Aleppo, the economic hub of Syria, and to accomplish the same with the M5 highway, linking Aleppo, Damascus, and Jordan. This goal is an economic imperative for Syria which is still manufacturing goods, and growing agricultural products used domestically and for export. The battle to clear Idlib of terrorists is crucial to the economic recovery of Syria. On February 8 the SAA captured the strategic town of Saraqeb, which is located at the junction of M4 and M5.

The terrorists in Idlib are well supplied, trained and have seemingly unlimited weapons and munitions. They have been attacking residential areas in Kessab, Latakia, Mahardeh, Hama, and western Aleppo consistently since 2012. The unarmed civilians who are killed, maimed and live in constant fear of a missile attack emanating from Idlib are the real victims.




The Syrian Arab Army is Implementing Sochi Agreement for Idlib by Force

By Arabi Souri
Source: Syria News
Idlib southern countryside villages are getting cleaned in order to implement Sochi’s agreement between Russian President Putin and the Turkish pariah Erdogan.

After very long stalling by NATO member state Turkey and the main regional sponsor of al-Qaeda FSA terrorists, the Syrian Arab Army SAA with assistance from the Russian allies started a military operation in south and southeast of Idlib province to implement the main points of the Sochi Agreement between Russia and Turkey which is to clean the vital artery M4 between Aleppo and Latakia from NATO terrorists, Erdogan has deliberately failed to implement his part of the agreement and instead increased the support for these terrorists.

The SAA’s military operation that started yesterday swiftly took al-Qaeda terrorists by surprise, their sponsor, the Turkish madman ‘Mama Erdogan’ lost his balance and lashed out at Putin, indirectly, but at a brewing front very far from Syria, in Libya, where Turkey and Qatar are sponsoring the Tripoli government against Benghazi government.

Erdogan’s ‘dirty tongue’ accused Russia of sending paramilitary troops to aid the Benghazi government forces which are working to reunite the country and clean the Libyan capital Tripoli from ISIS and its affiliates.

Back to Syria’s Idlib where the SAA is resorting to the successful tactic by cutting off supply routes for NATO-sponsored al-Qaeda terrorists then surrounding the targeted area and leaving one corridor open for the terrorists to flee towards the direction the SAA wants, always north towards their sponsor.

More in this report by the Lebanese news channel Al-Mayadeen:SAA Military Operation

Transcript of the English translation of the video report:

Um Jalal, Al-Rabia, Al-Khuriba, and Al-Haira are the first villages in the southern and eastern countryside of Idlib which the Syrian Arab Army units enter at the beginning of a major battle that is gradually becoming clear.

The advancement of the incursion units was based on a concentrated fire through airstrikes and artillery and rocket shelling that extended over the axes of the two major cities of Saraqeb and Ma’rat al-Numan.

The shelling destroyed large fortifications and gatherings of the HTS (Nusra Front – Al-Qaeda Levant), ‘The Caucasus Soldiers’ and ‘The National Liberation Front.’

Mahmoud Abdeslam, Military Expert: The Syrian Arab Army advanced after a clean operation by targeting a pre-defined target bank with high-precision quality weapons that led to the completion of the destruction of ground defenses and the main repellent lines of terrorist groups on the entire 70-kilometer front starting from Khan Sheikhoun towards Ma’rat al-Numan and Saraqeb.

The momentum of the fighting continues with a gradual encroachment that the Syrian Arab Army crowned last August to retake Khan Sheikhoun. Army units, in coordination with the Russian ally, are completing a clear route to secure the two vital routes: M5 between Aleppo, Saraqeb and Ma’rat al-Numan to Damascus, and the M4 between Aleppo and Saraqeb to Jisr al-Shughour, Latakia.

Two tracks correspond to the current fighting from Sinjar-Abu Al-Dhohour towards Ma’rat al-Numan and from Abu Al-Dhohour to Jaziraaya in the southern Aleppo countryside to Saraqeb, east of Idlib, and the M4-M5 link.

Mahmoud Abdul Salam, Military Expert: The main objective of this operation is to enforce the Sochi Convention by force and to reopen the main roads of the M4 and M5, especially since the main road known as the M4 has been opened to passengers from the far north-east of Syria.

The Idlib front is designed to implement one of the most important provisions of the Russian-Turkish Sochi agreement, namely the restoration of the two highways from Aleppo to Damascus and from Aleppo to Latakia, and the two roads passing through Saraqeb.

(Agreement) articles blocked by the militants since the end of last year.

The implementation of the Sochi clauses confirms the success of the strategy of the gradual encroachment of territorial geography, which the terrorists were controlling for years. The completion of the mission is linked to Russian arrangements with Turkey to handle the file of 3 Turkish checkpoints that are at the center of combat operations.

Mohammed al-Khader, Damascus, Al-Mayadeen.

End of the transcript of the English translation.

Anticipating the SAA’s military operation, the terrorist groups operating in Idlib started moving their families northwest towards Idlib City and to the borders with Turkey where protests erupted against the Turkish rejection of receiving the rest of the families of its own terrorists. Turkey might have allowed up to 50,000 family members of the terrorists, they’re part of the Erodgan’s ‘Safe Zone’ arrangement to Israelize territories in the north of Syria by replacing the people there with terrorists and their families loyal to the Turkish madman.




How America Armed Terrorists in Syria

Source: The American Conservative
Article dated 22 June 2017 – reposted 4 August 2019
Three-term Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, has proposed legislation that would prohibit any U.S. assistance to terrorist organizations in Syria as well as to any organization working directly with them. Equally important, it would prohibit U.S. military sales and other forms of military cooperation with other countries that provide arms or financing to those terrorists and their collaborators.

Gabbard’s “Stop Arming Terrorists Act” challenges for the first time in Congress a U.S. policy toward the conflict in the Syrian civil war that should have set off alarm bells long ago: in 2012-13 the Obama administration helped its Sunni allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar provide arms to Syrian and non-Syrian armed groups to force President Bashar al-Assad out of power. And in 2013 the administration began to provide arms to what the CIA judged to be “relatively moderate” anti-Assad groups—meaning they incorporated various degrees of Islamic extremism.

That policy, ostensibly aimed at helping replace the Assad regime with a more democratic alternative, has actually helped build up al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise al Nusra Front into the dominant threat to Assad.

The supporters of this arms-supply policy believe it is necessary as pushback against Iranian influence in Syria. But that argument skirts the real issue raised by the policy’s history. The Obama administration’s Syria policy effectively sold out the U.S. interest that was supposed to be the touchstone of the “Global War on Terrorism”—the eradication of al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates. The United States has instead subordinated that U.S. interest in counter-terrorism to the interests of its Sunni allies. In doing so it has helped create a new terrorist threat in the heart of the Middle East.

The policy of arming military groups committed to overthrowing the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in September 2011, when President Barack Obama was pressed by his Sunni allies—Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar—to supply heavy weapons to a military opposition to Assad they were determined to establish. Turkey and the Gulf regimes wanted the United States to provide anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to the rebels, according to a former Obama Administration official involved in Middle East issues.

Obama refused to provide arms to the opposition, but he agreed to provide covert U.S. logistical help in carrying out a campaign of military assistance to arm opposition groups. CIA involvement in the arming of anti-Assad forces began with arranging for the shipment of weapons from the stocks of the Gaddafi regime that had been stored in Benghazi. CIA-controlled firms shipped the weapons from the military port of Benghazi to two small ports in Syria using former U.S. military personnel to manage the logistics, as investigative reporter Sy Hersh detailed in 2014. The funding for the program came mainly from the Saudis.

A declassified October 2012 Defense Intelligence Agency report revealed that the shipment in late August 2012 had included 500 sniper rifles, 100 RPG (rocket propelled grenade launchers) along with 300 RPG rounds and 400 howitzers. Each arms shipment encompassed as many as ten shipping containers, it reported, each of which held about 48,000 pounds of cargo. That suggests a total payload of up to 250 tons of weapons per shipment. Even if the CIA had organized only one shipment per month, the arms shipments would have totaled 2,750 tons of arms bound ultimately for Syria from October 2011 through August 2012. More likely it was a multiple of that figure.

The CIA’s covert arms shipments from Libya came to an abrupt halt in September 2012 when Libyan militants attacked and burned the embassy annex in Benghazi that had been used to support the operation. By then, however, a much larger channel for arming anti-government forces was opening up. The CIA put the Saudis in touch with a senior Croatian official who had offered to sell large quantities of arms left over from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. And the CIA helped them shop for weapons from arms dealers and governments in several other former Soviet bloc countries.

Flush with weapons acquired from both the CIA Libya program and from the Croatians, the Saudis and Qataris dramatically increased the number of flights by military cargo planes to Turkey in December 2012 and continued that intensive pace for the next two and a half months. The New York Times reported a total 160 such flights through mid-March 2013. The most common cargo plane in use in the Gulf, the Ilyushin IL-76, can carry roughly 50 tons of cargo on a flight, which would indicate that as much as 8,000 tons of weapons poured across the Turkish border into Syria just in late 2012 and in 2013.

One U.S. official called the new level of arms deliveries to Syrian rebels a “cataract of weaponry.” And a year-long investigation by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project revealed that the Saudis were intent on building up a powerful conventional army in Syria. The “end-use certificate” for weapons purchased from an arms company in Belgrade, Serbia, in May 2013 includes 500 Soviet-designed PG-7VR rocket launchers that can penetrate even heavily-armored tanks, along with two million rounds; 50 Konkurs anti-tank missile launchers and 500 missiles, 50 anti-aircraft guns mounted on armored vehicles, 10,000 fragmentation rounds for OG-7 rocket launchers capable of piercing heavy body armor; four truck-mounted BM-21 GRAD multiple rocket launchers, each of which fires 40 rockets at a time with a range of 12 to 19 miles, along with 20,000 GRAD rockets.

The end user document for another Saudi order from the same Serbian company listed 300 tanks, 2,000 RPG launchers, and 16,500 other rocket launchers, one million rounds for ZU-23-2 anti-aircraft guns, and 315 million cartridges for various other guns.

Those two purchases were only a fraction of the totality of the arms obtained by the Saudis over the next few years from eight Balkan nations. Investigators found that the Saudis made their biggest arms deals with former Soviet bloc states in 2015, and that the weapons included many that had just come off factory production lines. Nearly 40 percent of the arms the Saudis purchased from those countries, moreover, still had not been delivered by early 2017. So the Saudis had already contracted for enough weaponry to keep a large-scale conventional war in Syria going for several more years.

By far the most consequential single Saudi arms purchase was not from the Balkans, however, but from the United States. It was the December 2013 U.S. sale of 15,000 TOW anti-tank missiles to the Saudis at a cost of about $1 billion—the result of Obama’s decision earlier that year to reverse his ban on lethal assistance to anti-Assad armed groups. The Saudis had agreed, moreover, that those anti-tank missiles would be doled out to Syrian groups only at U.S. discretion. The TOW missiles began to arrive in Syria in 2014 and soon had a major impact on the military balance.

This flood of weapons into Syria, along with the entry of 20,000 foreign fighters into the country—primarily through Turkey—largely defined the nature of the conflict. These armaments helped make al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al Nusra Front (now renamed Tahrir al-Sham or Levant Liberation Organization) and its close allies by far the most powerful anti-Assad forces in Syria—and gave rise to the Islamic State.

By late 2012, it became clear to U.S. officials that the largest share of the arms that began flowing into Syria early in the year were going to the rapidly growing al Qaeda presence in the country. In October 2012, U.S. officials acknowledged off the record for the first time to the New York Times that “most” of the arms that had been shipped to armed opposition groups in Syria with U.S. logistical assistance during the previous year had gone to “hardline Islamic jihadists”— obviously meaning al Qaeda’s Syrian franchise, al Nusra.

Al Nusra Front and its allies became the main recipients of the weapons because the Saudis, Turks, and Qataris wanted the arms to go to the military units that were most successful in attacking government targets. And by the summer of 2012, al Nusra Front, buttressed by the thousands of foreign jihadists pouring into the country across the Turkish border, was already taking the lead in attacks on the Syrian government in coordination with “Free Syrian Army” brigades.

In November and December 2012, al Nusra Front began establishing formal “joint operations rooms” with those calling themselves “Free Syrian Army” on several battlefronts, as Charles Lister chronicles in his book The Syrian Jihad. One such commander favored by Washington was Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, a former Syrian army officer who headed something called the Aleppo Revolutionary Military Council. Ambassador Robert Ford, who continued to hold that position even after he had been withdrawn from Syria, publicly visited Oqaidi in May 2013 to express U.S. support for him and the FSA.

But Oqaidi and his troops were junior partners in a coalition in Aleppo in which al Nusra was by far the strongest element. That reality is clearly reflected in a video in which Oqaidi describes his good relations with officials of the “Islamic State” and is shown joining the main jihadist commander in the Aleppo region celebrating the capture of the Syrian government’s Menagh Air Base in September 2013.

By early 2013, in fact, the “Free Syrian Army,” which had never actually been a military organization with any troops, had ceased to have any real significance in the Syria conflict. New anti-Assad armed groups had stopped using the name even as a “brand” to identify themselves, as a leading specialist on the conflict observed.

So, when weapons from Turkey arrived at the various battlefronts, it was understood by all the non-jihadist groups that they would be shared with al Nusra Front and its close allies. A report by McClatchy in early 2013, on a town in north central Syria, showed how the military arrangements between al Nusra and those brigades calling themselves “Free Syrian Army” governed the distribution of weapons. One of those units, the Victory Brigade, had participated in a “joint operations room” with al Qaeda’s most important military ally, Ahrar al Sham, in a successful attack on a strategic town a few weeks earlier. A visiting reporter watched that brigade and Ahrar al Sham show off new sophisticated weapons that included Russian-made RPG27 shoulder-fired rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades and RG6 grenade launchers.

When asked if the Victory Brigade had shared its new weapons with Ahrar al Sham, the latter’s spokesman responded, “Of course they share their weapons with us. We fight together.”

Turkey and Qatar consciously chose al Qaeda and its closest ally, Ahrar al Sham, as the recipients of weapons systems. In late 2013 and early 2014, several truckloads of arms bound for the province of Hatay, just south of the Turkish border, were intercepted by Turkish police. They had Turkish intelligence personnel on board, according to later Turkish police court testimony. The province was controlled by Ahrar al Sham. In fact Turkey soon began to treat Ahrar al Sham as its primary client in Syria, according to Faysal Itani, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

A Qatari intelligence operative who had been involved in shipping arms to extremist groups in Libya was a key figure in directing the flow of arms from Turkey into Syria. An Arab intelligence source familiar with the discussions among the external suppliers near the Syrian border in Turkey during those years told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius that when one of the participants warned that the outside powers were building up the jihadists while the non-Islamist groups were withering away, the Qatari operative responded, “I will send weapons to al Qaeda if it will help.”

The Qataris did funnel arms to both al Nusra Front and Ahrar al Sham, according to a Middle Eastern diplomatic source. The Obama administration’s National Security Council staff proposed in 2013 that the United States signal U.S. displeasure with Qatar over its arming of extremists in both Syria and Libya by withdrawing a squadron of fighter planes from the U.S. airbase at al-Udeid, Qatar. The Pentagon vetoed that mild form of pressure, however, to protect its access to its base in Qatar.

President Obama himself confronted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his government’s support for the jihadists at a private White House dinner in May 2013, as recounted by Hersh. “We know what you’re doing with the radicals in Syria,” he quotes Obama as saying to Erdogan.

The administration addressed Turkey’s cooperation with the al Nusra publicly, however, only fleetingly in late 2014. Shortly after leaving Ankara, Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2011 through mid-2014, told The Daily Telegraph of London that Turkey had “worked with groups, frankly, for a period, including al Nusra.”

The closest Washington came to a public reprimand of its allies over the arming of terrorists in Syria was when Vice President Joe Biden criticized their role in October 2014. In impromptu remarks at Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Biden complained that “our biggest problem is our allies.” The forces they had supplied with arms, he said, were “al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

Biden quickly apologized for the remarks, explaining that he didn’t mean that U.S. allies had deliberately helped the jihadists. But Ambassador Ford confirmed his complaint, telling BBC, “What Biden said about the allies aggravating the problem of extremism is true.”

In June 2013 Obama approved the first direct U.S. lethal military aid to rebel brigades that had been vetted by the CIA. By spring 2014, the U.S.-made BGM-71E anti-tank missiles from the 15,000 transferred to the Saudis began to appear in the hands of selected anti-Assad groups. But the CIA imposed the condition that the group receiving them would not cooperate with the al Nusra Front or its allies.

That condition implied that Washington was supplying military groups that were strong enough to maintain their independence from al Nusra Front. But the groups on the CIA’s list of vetted “relatively moderate” armed groups were all highly vulnerable to takeover by the al Qaeda affiliate. In November 2014, al Nusra Front troops struck the two strongest CIA-supported armed groups, Harakat Hazm and the Syrian Revolutionary Front on successive days and seized their heavy weapons, including both TOW anti-tank missiles and GRAD rockets.

In early March 2015, the Harakat Hazm Aleppo branch dissolved itself, and al Nusra Front promptly showed off photos of the TOW missiles and other equipment they had captured from it. And in March 2016, al Nusra Front troops attacked the headquarters of the 13th Division in northwestern Idlib province and seized all of its TOW missiles. Later that month, al Nusra Front released a video of its troops using the TOW missiles it had captured.

But that wasn’t the only way for al Nusra Front to benefit from the CIA’s largesse. Along with its close ally Ahrar al Sham, the terrorist organization began planning for a campaign to take complete control of Idlib province in the winter of 2014-15. Abandoning any pretense of distance from al Qaeda, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar worked with al Nusra on the creation of a new military formation for Idlib called the “Army of Conquest,” consisting of the al Qaeda affiliate and its closest allies. Saudi Arabia and Qatar provided more weapons for the campaign, while Turkey facilitated their passage. On March 28, just four days after launching the campaign, the Army of Conquest successfully gained control of Idlib City.

The non-jihadist armed groups getting advanced weapons from the CIA assistance were not part of the initial assault on Idlib City. After the capture of Idlib the U.S.-led operations room for Syria in southern Turkey signaled to the CIA-supported groups in Idlib that they could now participate in the campaign to consolidate control over the rest of the province. According to Lister, the British researcher on jihadists in Syria who maintains contacts with both jihadist and other armed groups, recipients of CIA weapons, such as the Fursan al haq brigade and Division 13, did join the Idlib campaign alongside al Nusra Front without any move by the CIA to cut them off.

As the Idlib offensive began, the CIA-supported groups were getting TOW missiles in larger numbers, and they now used them with great effectiveness against the Syrian army tanks. That was the beginning of a new phase of the war, in which U.S. policy was to support an alliance between “relatively moderate” groups and the al Nusra Front.

The new alliance was carried over to Aleppo, where jihadist groups close to Nusra Front formed a new command called Fateh Halab (“Aleppo Conquest”) with nine armed groups in Aleppo province which were getting CIA assistance. The CIA-supported groups could claim that they weren’t cooperating with al Nusra Front because the al Qaeda franchise was not officially on the list of participants in the command. But as the report on the new command clearly implied, this was merely a way of allowing the CIA to continue providing weapons to its clients, despite their de facto alliance with al Qaeda.

The significance of all this is clear: by helping its Sunni allies provide weapons to al Nusra Front and its allies and by funneling into the war zone sophisticated weapons that were bound to fall into al Nusra hands or strengthen their overall military position, U.S. policy has been largely responsible for having extended al Qaeda’s power across a significant part of Syrian territory. The CIA and the Pentagon appear to be ready to tolerate such a betrayal of America’s stated counter-terrorism mission. Unless either Congress or the White House confronts that betrayal explicitly, as Tulsi Gabbard’s legislation would force them to do, U.S. policy will continue to be complicit in the consolidation of power by al Qaeda in Syria, even if the Islamic State is defeated there.

Gareth Porter is an independent journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of numerous books, including Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (Just World Books, 2014).




SAA Killed 350 Nusra Front Terrorists in 3 Days in Hama Countryside

Source: Syria News
The SAA – Syrian Arab Army – eliminated 350 Nusra Front (HTS, Al-Qaeda Levant) terrorists and destroyed their vehicles in the southwestern part of the de-escalation zone in Idlib, Russian Ministry of Defense spokesperson stated.

In details, the Syrian Arab Army SAA repelled several waves of attacks by the Turkey-sponsored terrorist groups at the Kafr Nabudah and Howeiz axis in Hama countryside during the past 3 days. From 21st of May until yesterday only the SAA killed up to 350 terrorists and destroyed 5 of their tanks, an infantry ‘combat vehicle’, 27 pick up trucks mounted with heavy machine-guns, two suicide tasks armored vehicles, and 3 MLRs (Multiple rocket launchers), Russian Army Major General Victor Koptchichin, commander of the Hmeimim Base added.

The Russian general added that more than 800 new terrorists arrived to the southwest of de-escalation zone in Idlib, 7 tanks, 3 combat infantry transportation vehicles, 15 pick-up vehicles mounted with heavy machine-guns, and 2 to 4 suicide armored vehicles to be used to penetrate SAA’s defense lines.

Syrian Arab Army managed to deliver a swift defeat to Turkey-sponsored Nusra Front and its affiliates and cleaned a number of towns and villages from their terror, notably the town of Qalaat Al Madiq and its citadel in the western Hama countryside, which was used by the terrorists as a launchpad to target Hmeimim military base with missiles, and the strategic city of Kafr Nabudah in the northwest of Hama countryside.

Since then, the terrorists, with direct help from NATO member state Turkey, tried to retake the cleaned towns from the SAA in vain and lost a large number of their troops and weapons in these counterattacks. Erdogan forces assistance to the terrorists was shockingly brazen in transporting the terrorists from the north of Syria and supplying them with more armored vehicles, weapons, munition, and intelligence.

The Turkish observation point in Shashabo Mountain, in particular, was supposed to be an observation point to dismantle the terrorist groups and disarm them from their heavy arms in the de-escalation zone, based on the Sochi and Astana agreements, instead, it has been the base for the Al-Qaeda affiliates attacking the Syrian Arab Army and the Russian-managed Hmeimim army base.

As much as the world should feel disgusted towards the Erdogan regime and its US and Israel controllers for their War Of Terror waged against Syria and using terrorist groups they’re supposed to fight, as much and more the whole world should be grateful for the sacrifices and bravery of the Syrian Arab Army, the only force relentlessly fighting these non-human terrorists for more than 8 years and cleaning the planet from their filth.




Journalist taken hostage by Farouk Brigade 2013: ‘Syrian government did not use chemical weapons in Ghouta

Source: 21st Century Wire
In its zealous pursuit to misinform western public opinion about Syria, MSM has canceled dozens of scheduled interviews with a war reporter after he has declared to Belgian RTL radio: “It wasn’t the government of Bashar al-Assad that used Sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta”.

Pierre Piccinin da Prata, the Belgian war reporter and Editor-in-Chief of The Maghreb and Orient Courier, held hostage with Italian war reporter Domenico Quirico by Syrian ‘rebels’ for five months, eavesdropped a conversation through a closed door- between their jailers about the chemical weapon attack and saying that President al-Assad was not responsible for Ghouta Sarin gas attack.

“Syrian government had no interest in using the gas. Strategically, it was useless; and that could only ruin his image on the international level, with the risk of an American attack,” the reporter told the Syria Times e-newspaper, calling on western media outlets that have been wrong about Syria, about what has really happened since 2011 to recognize their errors and restore truth for their readers and listeners.

Piccinin, who was sold by the commander of the Katiba of the so-called the ‘Free Syria Army’ he was with to the al-Farouk Brigade for a few hundred dollars, posed the following question: what is the point of being a war reporter if it is not to tell the truth?

Following is the full text of the interview:

ST: Why and how were you taken hostage by the Farouk Brigade as you had been a fierce supporter of the so-called ‘Syrian Arab Army’?

Piccinin: I was kidnapped by al-Farouk Islamists in April 2013, in al-Qouseir, in the governorate of Homs.

I was doing an ’embedded’ report at the time, with the ‘rebels’ of the Free Syrian Army (FSA – when they still existed, before disappearing when the rebellion was completely Islamized).

At that time already (April 2013), the ‘non-Islamist’ rebels realized that they had lost the game. Many were returning home or fleeing to Lebanon or Turkey. Some joined the different Islamist groups. Jabhet al-Nusra, especially (al-Qaeda in Syria). But some groups of the FSA continued to occupy the land they still controlled. But they no longer fought the Syrian army: they behaved like bandits; they ransacked the population, under the pretext of taking money for the war effort. And some FSA chiefs started to kidnap people, to enrich themselves personally. That’s what happened to me: the commander of the katiba of the FSA I was with sold me at al-Farouk for a few hundred dollars.

ST: What is the lesson you have learned from the five months in captivity?

Piccinin: As a war reporter and specialist of Syria, and Islamist circles, this experience (although it was very painful nervously and physically) taught me a lot about the evolution of the conflict and also about the realities and internal functioning of these Islamist groups. On their behavior, their convictions, their vision of the world…

I have not been locked up for five months. I was moved very regularly as the conflict evolved. At this time, the fighting followed one another: the front lines moved a lot. In particular, I experienced the siege and the fall of al-Qouseir. The city was taken over by the Syrian government in early June 2013.

So I was able to observe what was happening, constantly moved between Damascus and Aleppo. And I was not attached, nor blinded. I could even talk to the fighters who held me, regularly and also to the people I met. I was very guarded, sometimes locked up, but very often free to communicate, with the Islamists and with the people who gravitated around them. I took my meals with them. We often slept in the same room. I was even present when they prayed or during their military meetings.

I hoped that someone (among the people I meet) would react and help me to free myself. But the Islamists terrorized the population. People were very afraid of Ammar al-Buqai, the al-Farouk chief, who held me. And nobody dared to defend me. One day (it was in Yabroud, near the Lebanese border), a man told me: “They (the Islamists) are a real problem for us. It’s dangerous to contradict them. They are very dangerous. We must pretend to obey them.”

It was a very hard and painful human experience (for my family, my parents in particular, they are old). But, professionally, I dare to say that it was a great enrichment.

On the human side, moral, I also learned a lot. I have seen what level of cruelty, violence, malice and cynicism the human being can reach…

ST: You have stated that it is not the Syrian government that used Sarin gas or any other gas in Ghouta. Have you tried to give your testimony to international investigation committee about the use of chemical weapons in Syria? And Why?

Piccinin : At the end of this period of detention (it was at the end of August 2013), the jihadists who held me spoke only about this: the events of Ghouta.

And, at that moment, I was transferred to a large building (it was in Bab al-Hawa, near the Turkish border). This building served as a common headquarters for al-Farouk and the Free Syrian Army. It was in this place that we caught a conversation that allowed us to know that, most likely, the gases were used in Ghouta by an Islamist group, to provoke a reaction from the United States of America (I say “we”, because I was kidnapped with an Italian journalist, who sometimes accompanied me to Syria, and we were detained together).

Obama had promised that he would attack Syria if the government used gas. And it was a time when the rebels were losing the war. Everywhere! So… I guess if the rebels did that, it was to try to drag the United States into the conflict, hoping to reverse the military situation.

The Syrian government had no interest in using the gas. Strategically, it was useless; and that could only ruin his image on the international level, with the risk of an American attack.

My testimony was published by some media and I developed this question in several conferences.

But, no … Never the UN institutions have asked me to testify.

It must also be said that very few European media have published this testimony…

To tell you the truth, when I came back to Europe, I was contacted by dozens of media outlets, who wanted to interview me, and a lot of Belgian and French media of course. But when I gave the first interviews on Belgian radio in the morning, the day of my come back … I obviously talked about this issue of gas in Ghouta … Just after, the phone immediately began to ring: the media that had programmed my intervention in their broadcasts (radio and television) called me to tell me that the interview was no longer possible … For various absurd pretexts … The interviews were cancelled! Indeed, all Western media had accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of using the gas and had claimed that he was guilty. And a reporter who has been on the ground for five months was coming to testify to the contrary … That did not suit them …

Even my Italian colleague has preferred to keep quiet … I never asked him directly why, because I would not like to embarrass him … But I’m sure it was his editor-in-chief who told him not to talk about that …

Anyway. I should have shut up too. It is certain that my professional career has suffered a lot because of this revelation.

But, honestly, I ask myself the question: what is the point of being a war reporter if it is not to tell the truth?

ST: Have you visited Syria after your release? Would you like to visit Ghouta after its liberation from terrorist groups?

Piccinin: I have been to Syria many times since 2013. For example, I covered the battle of Raqqa, against the Islamic State …

But mainly with the Kurdish rebels. Never again with the Free Syrian Army (it does not exist anymore besides… apart some groups, manipulated by Erdogan’s Turkey, in the north of Aleppo). And not with the Syrian regular army.

Of course, I would very much appreciate being allowed to go back to Syria, with the government’s agreement to see Damascus again … and Aleppo.

I had an ambitious project… To ask President Al-Assad for a series of long interviews, for a book.

ST: As you have been in Syria during the war, why President Bashar al-Assad is standing strong after 8 years of terror war on the country?

Piccinin: Already in July 2011 (including in the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique), I analyzed the situation in Syria and announced that the Baathist government would remain at the head of the country…

I explained the reasons, complex, for which the president Assad was strong enough to break the ‘rebels’.

Of course, we must mention the complexity of the conflict that President al -Assad had to face. I mean: the complexity of alliances and actors. Syria had to count on faithful and solid allies: Hezbollah party, Iran and, of course, Russia.

But, more than all that, certainly, it is the cohesion of the Syrian army which allowed the victory and the incredible sacrifices of the Syrian soldiers. It is a fact. The Western media have never talked about those boys who gave their lives to defeat the Islamists.

I met them in Syria. They were citizens, young men doing their military service. No monsters, as the media in the West have presented.

More, President Al-Assad had the support of communities, ethnic and faith-based minorities, who have always been protected in Syria and have been able to live in peace in the country (this is not the case in other Arab countries); moreover, President Al-Assad also had a lot of support of the Sunni majority, and particularly in the middle class, who appreciated his policy of economic development and openness.

But, above all, it is obvious that the majority of Syrians have been scared by Islamist fanatics: Syria is a secular country, where the level of education is high, and where there is also a form of social security which ensures the inhabitants of rather good living conditions (in comparison with other countries of the Middle East).

When it became clear that the “revolution” had turned into a fanatic, jihadist, Islamist insurgency, only the regular army could protect the people from the creation of an “Islamic state”. And the vast majority of Syrians supported the government and the army in their efforts to save the country.

ST: Would you like to add anything?

Piccinin: Only one word, for Western media…

It is time for all those who were wrong about Syria, about what has really happened since 2011 … All those who have not understood anything about this conflict … Time to let themselves question… To recognize their errors and restore truth for their readers and listeners.

Unfortunately, the Western press is not as free as it claims … And I doubt that such a questioning will ever take place.

Especially when I read the analyzes produced today: Western journalists have not remembered anything, learned nothing from the mistakes they made.

The consequence is that Western public opinion is very badly informed (or even “misinformed”) about Syria. And on this issue, citizens, especially in Europe, have the impression of “knowing”, but it is a “virtual” knowledge, and they live in a “virtual” reality, far removed from the truth.

***

Interviewed by: Basma Qaddour