State Sponsored Terrorism
Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Syria continues its political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region and beyond. Syria provided political and weapons support to Hizballah in Lebanon and allowed Iran to resupply the terrorist organization with weapons. The external leadership of Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), among others, were based in Damascus and operated within Syria’s borders. Statements supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizballah consistently permeated government speeches and press statements.
President Bashar al-Asad continued to express public support for Palestinian terrorist groups as elements of the resistance against Israel. Damascus historically has allowed exiled individuals safe haven in Syria and Hamas Politburo head Khalid Meshaal and his deputies continued to reside in Syria, while the Syrian government provided Meshaal security escorts for his motorcades. Though the Syrian government claimed periodically that it used its influence to restrain the rhetoric and activities of Palestinian groups, Meshaal freely traveled around Damascus and the Syrian government allowed Meshaal’s use of the Syrian Ministry of Information as the venue for press conferences. Open source reports indicated that Hamas used Syrian soil as training grounds for its militant fighters.
Added to the terrorist operatives calling Damascus home, in 2010, Iraqi Baathists continued to congregate in the Syrian capital and some of them call for violence against the Iraqi government, Iraqi civilian targets, and American and coalition forces within Iraq. Al-Rai Television, a television station owned by Iraqi Baathist Mishaan al-Jaburi and broadcast from a suburban Damascus location, transmitted violent messages in support of terrorism in Iraq throughout 2010.
The Syrian Government had not been directly implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986, but a UN-led investigation into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese PM Rafik al-Hariri suggested a possible Syrian role in the killing. By October 2005 UN investigators concluded that high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese officials were involved in the assassination of Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. The investigators charged officials, including Syria's foreign minister, with trying to mislead them. After an exhaustive four-month investigation, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis provided a clear picture of the planning and execution of Mr. Hariri's assassination. He presented his findings to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The 54-page report was also given to the 15-member Security Council. In unusually strong language, the report concluded that the assassination was prepared over several months, and carried out by a group with extensive organization and considerable resources. While not making any direct charges, the Mehlis report pointed a finger at senior Syrian and pro-Syrian Lebanese officials, saying there is converging evidence of their involvement.
The UN International Independent Investigative Commission (UNIIIC) probed Hariri's assassination until the UN Security Council established the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL). The STL began operating in March 2009, continuing UNIIIC’s work with an aim toward prosecuting the individuals behind the attacks.
The Syrian Government continued to provide political and limited material support to a number of Palestinian groups, including allowing them to maintain headquarters or offices in Damascus. Some of these groups have committed terrorist acts, but the Syrian Government insists that their Damascus offices undertake only political and informational activities. The most notable Palestinian rejectionist groups in Syria are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS). Syria also continued to permit Iranian resupply, via Damascus, of Hizballah in Lebanon.
At the UN Security Council and in other multilateral fora, Syria has taken a leading role in espousing the view that Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups fighting Israel are not terrorists; it also has used its voice in the UN Security Council to encourage international support for Palestinian national aspirations and denounce Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories as "state terrorism."
The Syrian Government has repeatedly assured the United States that it will take every possible measure to protect US citizens and facilities from terrorists in Syria. In times of increased threat, it has increased police protection around the US Embassy. During the past five years, there have been no acts of terrorism against US citizens in Syria. The Government of Syria has cooperated significantly with the United States and other foreign governments against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and individuals. It also has discouraged any signs of public support for al-Qaida, including in the media and at mosques.
In 2002, Syria became a party to the 1988 Protocol for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts of Violence at Airports Serving International Civil Aviation, making it party to five of the 12 international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.
In the mid-1980s, much media attention was paid to Syria's alleged use of terrorism to achieve diplomatic, military, and strategic objectives in the Middle East and elsewhere. Although the exact Syrian role was murky, in the mid-1980s, Syria's intelligence and security networks were strongly implicated in the support of Middle Eastern and other international terrorist groups in Western Europe. In fact, Syria was one of the countries on the terrorism list issued by the United States government, first compiled in 1979.
Within Syria's intelligence and security services, sponsorship of terrorism reportedly was conducted by Air Force Intelligence, of which Major General Muhammad al Khawli, an air force officer, had served as chief since 1970. Khawli, an Alawi, was considered Assad's most important adviser and his office was adjacent to Assad's in the presidential palace in Damascus, where he was presidential adviser on national security and head of security. Since 1976 Khawli has been the architect of Syria's policy in Lebanon. He also was credited with crushing the uprising by the Muslim Brotherhood in Hamah in 1982, and, according to the London Times, under his command Air Force Intelligence operatives had directed at least twenty-nine terrorist operations as of late 1986. These intelligence operatives reportedly worked in the offices of the Syrian Arab Airline abroad and also as military attachés in Syrian embassies. Thus, Syria had a formidable intelligence network with which to direct and fund terrorist groups and provide them such assistance as explosives and weapons, false passports and official Syrian service passports, diplomatic pouches, safe houses, and logistical support. Lieutenant Colonel Haitham Sayid, deputy chief of Air Force Intelligence and its operations director, was second in command to Khawli. In Lebanon, Khawli's power was exercised by Brigadier General Ghazi Kanaan, head of Syria's military intelligence in Lebanon.
Military Intelligence services (mukhabarat) were headed by General Ali Duba, an Alawi, who was, in effect, the country's chief of internal security. The mukhabarat was headquartered in the Defense Ministry complex in the center of Damascus and reputedly exercised immense authority because it operated from within the military establishment. Reportedly, Military Intelligence services handled radical Palestinian terrorist groups, such as Ahmad Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine--General Command. General Khawli and Lieutenant Colonel Sayid were allegedly also the "paymasters" of the Abu Nidal terrorist organization, also called the Fatah-- Revolutionary Council. According to the United States Department of State, Syria provided the Abu Nidal organization with logistical support and permission to operate facilities in Damascus (the Syrian government asserts the facilities were limited to cultural and political affairs). It is also claimed that the Syrian government helped the Abu Nidal organization maintain training camps in Lebanon's Biqa Valley, an area controlled by Syrian armed forces, and supplied travel documents permitting Abu Nidal operatives to transit freely through Damascus when departing on missions.
Western government and intelligence sources admited that they could not pinpoint Assad's complicity in planning terrorist operations but considered it unlikely that he was not informed in advance of major terrorist acts. It was equally unlikely that Major General Khawli would act without clearing a potentially risky operation with Assad.
Various news organizations claimed that, as part of its overall support network, in the 1980s Syria provided training camps for Middle Eastern and international terrorists. There were reportedly five training bases near Damascus and some twenty other training facilities elsewhere, including the Syrian-controlled Biqa Valley in eastern Lebanon. In late 1986 U.S. News & World Report stated that since October 1983, when Israel withdrew from Beirut, large numbers of international terrorists known to Western intelligence sources have turned up in Damascus. These include members of radical Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups, which depended on Syria for refuge, logistical, and financial support, as well as other freelance terrorists. Other sources report that a number of West European terrorists, including members of the Red Army Faction (also known as Baader Meinhof), and the Action Directe, as well as the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA), the Japanese Red Army, the Kurdish Labor Party, the Pakistani Az Zulfikar, the Tamil United Liberation Front of Sri Lanka, the Moro National Liberation Front for the Philippines, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Somalia, and the Eritrean Liberation Front, have also received training in Syrian camps or in Syrian-controlled areas in Lebanon. Furthermore, the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction (LARF) was based in the Lebanese village of Qubayat, within the area of Syrian control. Syria also permitted Iran to operate training camps in eastern Lebanon for the Shia Hizballah (the Party of God) organization.
Syria's goal was to employ as surrogates terrorists whose operations left few traces to Syria. In June 1986 the Washington Post reported that Middle East analysts had noted three distinct types of relationships between Syria's intelligence and security services and terrorist groups. In the first type of relationship, however, there was direct Syrian involvement, because Syrian intelligence created new radical Palestinian factions, such as As Saiqa, which were, in effect, integrated components of the Syrian armed forces and hence direct Syrian agents. The radical Palestinian Abu Musa group, which was almost totally dependent on Syria, was another example of such a relationship. In the other two types of relationships, Syria used terrorists as surrogates to avoid direct blame. In the second relationship, Syria collaborated with and provided logistical and other support to terrorist groups that maintained independent organizational identities, but were directed by Syrian intelligence, which formulated general guidelines as to targets. Reportedly, Abu Nidal's Fatah--Revolutionary Council and the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction (LARF) were examples of such collaboration. The third relationship involved selection of freelance or "sleeper" terrorists, mainly Palestinians and Jordanians, to carry out a specific operation. The convicted Lebanese assassin of Bashir Jumayyil and Nizar Hindawi and his half-brother Ahmad Hasi, convicted in 1986 of trying to blow up an Israeli commercial airliner in London and of bombing the German-Arab Friendship Society office in West Berlin, respectively, were listed as examples of this type of relationship.
Firm proof of Syrian sponsorship of terrorism occurred at the trials of Nizar Hindawi in Britain and his half-brother, Ahmad Hasi, in West Berlin. Evidence introduced in Britain, and other information not made public, linked Hindawi with the Syrian intelligence services. Because of the evidence, the British government severed diplomatic relations with Syria. Hasi's case implicated Haitham Sayid, deputy chief of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, for whom an international arrest warrant was issued by West Berlin authorities. After Hasi's conviction, the West German government downgraded its relations with Syria.
A series of terrorist explosions in Paris in September 1986 were linked to a Marxist Maronite terrorist group, the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Faction (LARF). LARF was implicated in the assassination of a number of American, West European, and Israeli diplomats in Europe, and its operations were reputedly known to Syrian intelligence. In a magazine interview in September 1986, Pierre Marion, former director of the French General Directorate of External Security, charged that in the early 1980s Syrian intelligence agents had helped terrorist groups to operate in France, as part of a Syrian effort to punish France for its involvement in Lebanon.
Although Syrian links to terrorists in Western Europe emerged in the mid-1980s, observers believe that Assad had long used terrorism to further Syrian policy objectives in the Middle East. Over the years, Jordanian officials have accused Syria of assassinating Jordanian diplomats. PLO leaders have accused Syria of the assassination of Arafat's chief of staff and close aide, Saad Sayil (known as Abu Walid), killed near a Syrian checkpoint in the Biqa Valley in eastern Lebanon in 1982. According to the report by the United States Department of State on "Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1983," several attacks by members of the Abu Nidal organization reflected Syrian opposition toward the proArafat Fatah faction of the PLO. In 1983 these attacks included the assassination at the International Conference of Socialists in Portugal of PLO observer Issam Sartawi, who had advocated dialogue with Israel. The same report also charged Syria with encouraging the radical Shia Lebanese group, Islamic Jihad, to carry out the 1983 suicide bombing attacks against the United States Embassy in Beirut and the headquarters of the United States and French contingents of the Multinational Force (MNF) in Beirut, which resulted in 557 casualties.
The Syrian Government in 2003 continued to provide political and material support to Palestinian rejectionist groups. HAMAS, the PIJ, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine operate from Syria, although they have lowered their public profiles since May, when Damascus announced that the groups had voluntarily closed their offices. Many of these groups claimed responsibility for anti-Israeli terrorist acts in 2003; the Syrian Government insists that their Damascus offices undertake only political and informational activities. Syria also continued to permit Iran to use Damascus as a transshipment point for resupplying Hizballah in Lebanon.
Syrian officials have publicly condemned international terrorism but continue to make a distinction between terrorism and what they consider to be the legitimate armed resistance of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and of Lebanese Hizballah. The Syrian Government has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986.
Despite tensions between the United States and Syria about the war in Iraq and Syrian support for terrorism, Damascus has repeatedly assured the United States that it will take every possible measure to protect US citizens and facilities. Damascus has cooperated with the United States and other foreign governments against al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other terrorist organizations and individuals; it also has discouraged signs of public support for al-Qaida, including in the media and at mosques.
In 2003, Syria was instrumental in returning a sought-after terrorist planner to US custody. Since the end of the war in Iraq, Syria has made efforts to tighten its borders with Iraq to limit the movement of anti-Coalition foreign fighters into Iraq, a move that has not been completely successful.
On 18 January 2006 the U.S. Department of the Treasury named Assef Shawkat a Specially Designated National (SDN) of Syria pursuant to Executive Order 13338, for directly furthering the Government of Syria's support for terrorism and interference in the sovereignty of Lebanon. "As the Director of Syrian Military Intelligence, Shawkat has been a key architect of Syria's domination of Lebanon, as well as a fundamental contributor to Syria's long-standing policy to foment terrorism against Israel," said Stuart Levey, Treasury's Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI).
In addition to the power he derives from his position, Shawkat also has access to the highest levels of the Syrian power structure by virtue of his marriage to Bushra al-Asad, the sister to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Shawkat is a close confidant of President Assad and an important member of his inner circle of advisors. Through his position as Director of SMI, Shawkat has directed and significantly contributed to the Government of Syria's support for terrorism, including coordination with Specially Designated Global Terrorists Hizballah, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command ("PFLP-GC"), Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad ("PIJ").
Information indicated that in 2005, Shawkat met with Hizballah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah, PFLP-GC chief Ahmad Jibril, PIJ Secretary General Ramadan Shallah, in addition to Hamas and PIJ officials. Shallah, Jibril and Nasrallah are designated Specially Designated Terrorists pursuant to Executive Order 12947. Shawkat and the officials discussed coordination and cooperation between the terrorist groups. Shawkat and Jibril hoped to ease the freedom of movement for Palestinian terrorist groups, including PFLP-GC in Lebanon, so that the groups could move between Lebanon and Syria, as well as receive weapons and ammunition more easily.
During his tenure as Deputy Director of SMI, Shawkat managed a branch of SMI charged with overseeing liaison relations with major terrorist groups resident in Damascus, including PFLP-GC, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), HAMAS, and PIJ. As SMI Deputy, Shawkat helped direct operations against Israel, some of which were coordinated with Palestinian terrorist group leaders, including PFLP-GC leader Ahmad Jibril and PIJ leader Ramadan Shallah.
Information shows that in June 2003, Shawkat, through his position as deputy director of SMI, ordered members of PIJ, Hamas, and PFLP-GC to lower their profiles. The SMI dictated a number of changes that needed to be implemented by the three terrorist groups. The SMI demanded that each of the groups seek approval from Shawkat's liaison to hold meetings and gatherings inside their respective office spaces. The SMI also demanded that the groups lower their presence and public profile as much as possible. In return, the SMI declared that they would not expel any of the groups' members from Syrian soil or close offices, provided their demands were met.
Information available to the United States Government indicated that in 1997, Shawkat instructed PIJ Secretary General Ramadan Shallah to surveil strategic targets in a neighboring country to prepare for possible future attacks. By virtue of his position as SMI Director, Shawkat directs and significantly contributes to the Government of Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon. SMI is the primary entity responsible for coordinating and implementing Syrian Arab Republic Government's (SARG) policies in Lebanon. Shawkat has contributed significantly to the SARG's security presence in Lebanon through his oversight of SMI activities within Lebanon and his direct control over Brigadier General Rustum Ghazali, who commanded SMI activities in Lebanon.
Syria continued its strong partnership with fellow state sponsor of terrorism Iran. Throughout 2010, the countries exchanged frequent high-level visitors. Iranian President Ahmedinejad visited Damascus in February and September and President Assad visited Tehran in October. The Iranian National Security Advisor, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, and Intelligence Chief all visited Damascus within the last year. Syria also allowed leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian groups resident in Syria to visit Tehran. Asad continued to be a staunch defender of Iran’s policies, including Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Syria increased border monitoring activities, instituted tighter screening practices on military-age Arab males entering its borders, and expressed a desire to increase security cooperation with Iraq. These activities likely contributed to a decrease in Iraqbound foreign fighters. At the same time, however, Syria remained a key hub for foreign fighters en route to Iraq and a safe haven for Iraqi Baathists expressing support for terrorist attacks against Iraqi government interests and coalition forces. Attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces and Iraqi citizens continued to have a destabilizing effect on Iraq’s internal security. While Syria and Iraq returned their ambassadors to Baghdad and Damascus, respectively, in the autumn of 2010, Syrian and Iraqi security cooperation has been largely inactive since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in August 2009 accused Baathists harbored by Syria of fomenting terrorism in Iraq.
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