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Monday, February 10, 2014

Man behind the Curtain for al-Qaeda in Syria is Assad

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad wanted the recent Geneva II peace conference to focus on terrorism. He says terrorism is the main problem and the looming danger in Syria and he knows he has an audience in the West. If we look back on Assad's past, we can see that he has always had a curious history with terrorists, rhetorically fighting them here, utilizing them there, setting them up, making whatever use of "the terrorist" he can to advance his position. Never has that been more true than in the last three years in Syria.

This post will review the current threat to the Syrian revolution posed by the two major Islamist terror groups, Jan al-Nusra [JAN] and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant [ISIS]. We will look at their origins, including early connections to Baathists and Assad, before examining his regime`s use of staged "terror attacks" and phony reports. Then we will look at the history of the Assad regime with these groups and some of their leading personalities and review the evidence that has accumulated to date that points to a close and controlling relationship between Bashar al-Assad and important elements within ISIS and JAN.

ISIS and JAN have had some success in terrorizing the population in liberated areas, stoking sectarian fires, and creating a second front for those fighting for a democratic Syria. Bashar al-Assad has had some success in packaging their "work produce" into his "devil-you-know" sales kit and sent his team off to Geneva to sell all the world's powers on how Bashar is the best thing for terrorism since sliced ... From  Assad Regime Working With Al-Qaeda, Time, 27 Jan 2014:
Regime representatives maintain that the biggest threat to Syria—and the region—is the growing influence of al-Qaeda-linked terror groups among the rebels. “We have to agree on a formula where all terrorist organizations should be fought by all Syrians and be expelled,” Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad told the New York Times, “Those who are financing, supporting, arming and harboring terrorists should be made accountable.”

This post is for those that still think he might be right. I hope to show you that this ain't Kansas, and it certainly ain't Oz. and when it comes to the terrorists in Syria, Bashar al-Assad is the man standing behind the curtain.

Terrorists to the Rescue

The Islamists terror groups al Nusra and ISIS have done more in the past year to improve Assad's future prospects than two Hezbullahs and a fist full of Iraqi Shite militia. They have terrorized Syrians in the liberated areas, they only work in the liberated areas, and they have made refugees of Syrians the regime couldn't.

They have turned Assad's original Big Lie, that he was fighting extremists, into the truth. They have been lumped in with the revolutionary opposition as "the rebels," a view promoted by Assad and his deputies, and adopted by everyone looking for a reason to look the other way and let Assad get on with the grisly business of brutally putting down all opposition.

Their heinous acts fuelled the rationalization that we have no standing to do anything about the thousands of children being slaughtered because "both sides" are "committing war crimes," "both sides" are equally bad, etc. What if it turns out that one side is committing war crimes on both sides of the conflict? Have you considered the extent to which that might be true? It is, after all, one of the oldest tricks in warfare.

Sarah Birke
, The New York Review of Books, 27 Dec 2013, wrote a very comprehensive piece titled How al-Qaeda Changed the Syrian War. I shall refer to it often. She says this is how they've changed the conversation:
Talk to any Syrian you meet on the Syrian-Turkish border these days, and in less than five minutes the conversation is likely to turn to Da’ash—the Arabic acronym for the rebel organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS. Linked to al-Qaeda, the fearsome group has swept across northern Syria, imposing sharia law, detaining and even beheading Syrians who don’t conform to its purist vision of Islam, and waging war on rival militias. In early December, the group killed a foreign journalist, Iraqi cameraman Yasser Faisal al-Joumali, who was reporting in northern Syria. Even using the word Da’ash—seen as derogatory by the group’s members—is punishable by eighty lashes, a twenty-three-year-old wounded fighter from a rival Islamist group told me from his bed in a Syrian-run makeshift clinic in Turkey.
ISIS’s real power comes from the fear it seeks and manages to inspire. The group has shown zero tolerance for political dissent. Many Syrians I met along the border mentioned with horror ISIS’s execution of two young boys in Aleppo due to alleged heresy. The kidnappings of local activists and journalists has deterred dissent while also whipping up anti-ISIS sentiment. The group has blown up Shiite shrines, but has also shown few qualms about Sunni civilians getting killed in the process. Beheadings have become common. Father Paolo dall’Oglio, an Italian Jesuit priest who has lived in Syria for thirty years, and who campaigns for inter-religious tolerance, is missing, abducted by ISIS during a visit to the city of Raqqa in late July. As with dozens of others who remain in captivity,
She also described the sectarian violence the ISIS brought with them when they occupied the opposition stronghold of Raqqa:
Consider the eastern city of Raqqa, which was first captured by various rebel forces in early March 2013. When I visited that month, the city was ruled by a coalition of militias, and it was possible to move around as a woman without a headscarf. I met with an Alawite nurse who worked alongside Sunni peers. And I talked to Abdullah al-Khalil, a prominent lawyer before the war, who as head of the local council continued to pay street cleaners salaries and was trying to secure enough money to keep other services going.

But within two months, ISIS was firmly in charge. The group beheaded three Alawites in the city’s central square, and established sharia courts and policing. Abdullah al-Khalil, the head councilman, was himself kidnapped by ISIS or its allies. Women have been told to cover up, smoking banned, and girls and boys segregated in school. Minorities have been hounded out of the city, and foreign journalists and aid workers are no longer welcome: dozens are currently in ISIS captivity.
Even though Assad has been unable to retake Raqqa, all the gains of the revolution have been reversed and people find themselves under a new regime worst than the old regime. In another area we are told by Sam Dagher and Maria AbioHabib in the Wall St. Journal, 14 Jan 2014:
ISIS took full control of the town of Al-Bab, east of Aleppo, from rebels on Monday, said opposition activists who fled the area.

These activists said ISIS fighters sweeping through the southern section of Al-Bab on Sunday detained military-age males and confiscated laptops and cellphones to check for links to Syrian rebel factions.

Many in Al-Bab said they fear executions by ISIS similar to those it carried out on Sunday in the neighboring province of Raqqa, which is now largely under the group's control.

ISIS members captured and executed as many as 100 fighters from an Islamist rebel faction called Ahrar al-Sham on Sunday on the outskirts of the city of Raqqa, activists said.
cui bono?

From Assad's point of view, this is all good, and it is having the desired effect as this quote from the Sarah Birke piece indicates:
A rebel fighter, a nineteen-year-old from Aleppo, said. ISIS has also changed Syrians’ view of the war. “If the choice is between ISIS and Assad, I’ll take Assad,” says a Syrian friend who enthusiastically supported the protests.
Not only is it causing many Syrians to rethink their objections to his rule, it is causing the West to re-think Assad too. Ibrahim Fayyad observed this in Your Middle East:
The rise of Islamists in Syria is changing the way Western governments look at the conflict. In the West, Syria is increasingly becoming a “security issue” rather than a “humanitarian tragedy”. This is not a simple change in terminology; neither is it a change in depicting what’s happening in Syria. It’s actually a change in policy priorities that would necessarily trigger policy changes towards the Syrian conflict.
The invasion and occupation of liberated areas by these Islamist extremists has forced open a second reactionary front for the revolution. They now must fight these Islamist extremists as well as the Assad regime.  Doha Hassan, NOW, wrote about one such confrontation between the ISIS and local protesters in a 11 Nov. 2013 piece titled ISIS is the child of the regime:
Many protests were organized in response to ISIS’ bringing down the crosses atop the Our Lady of the Annunciation Church and the Martyrs’ Church. ISIS responded by shooting at these protests and arresting those taking part in them. Nawfal recounts: “I carried a cardboard on which I had drawn a cross and crescent side by side with the expression ‘State of Evil.’ A young man aged about 16 with a Tunisian accent attacked me, saying, ‘This woman is defending the houses of infidels and Christians. She is an infidel like them and should be killed.’ A car with Tunisian armed men on board then came and the men surrounded me and loaded their guns, shoving them straight in my face.”
ISIS has been especially hard on activists and journalists. Wherever they get control, their repression mirrors that of the regime. Novelist Robin Yassin-Kassab argues that ISIS is not a rebel group:
ISIL should not be considered part of the revolutionary opposition. It has fought Free Syrian Army (FSA) divisions as well as Kurdish groups; it has assassinated FSA and more moderate Islamist commanders and abducted revolutionary activists. It serves the regime's agenda by terrifying minority groups, deterring journalists, and influencing the calculations of men like the former US ambassador to Syria Ryan Crocker who wrote (from a deficit of both information and principle, and with stunning short-sightedness): "We need to come to terms with a future that includes Assad - and consider that as bad as he is, there is something worse."
Assad's openly brutal murderous regime is on the verge of getting the nod from the world's powers because they fear the devil seemingly looking to replace him. That is why it is important to expose the hand of Assad inside the devil suit of al Qaeda in Syria.

Origins of the Evil Twins

Both ISIS and JAN are spin-offs of the Islamic State of Irag [ISI] which was widely known of as al Qaeda in Iraq [AQI] before it anointed itself with statehood and changed its name. AQI got its start after the US toppled Saddam Hussein and it won recruits by killing US soldiers in Iraq. It was able to pretty well establish itself in Anbar province and part of the reason for that was that Anbar province has a long border with Syria and all through the war, Bashar al-Assad provided safe haven in Syria for these al Qaeda terrorists. Writing about the Iraq War in the Washington Times, Rowan Scarborough says:
Mr. Assad allowed al Qaeda operatives to set up a “rat line” through his country and into northeastern Iraq. Hundreds of young terrorists, many recruited from North Africa, took airline flights into Damascus and joined networks ready to sneak them across the border.
[Retired Army] Gen. [John M.] Keane, recalling briefings he received in Baghdad, said the Assad regime actively promoted the flow of terrorists into Iraq.

“Syria intelligence services facilitated the movement of al Qaeda fighters from Damascus airport to the eastern border of Syria,” he said.

At Damascus airport, he said, they were easy to pick out: “Bearded. One-way ticket. Very little luggage.”
This is the kind of operational intimacy Bashar al-Assad had with al Qaeda in Iraq in the last decade. Commenting on the rapid grown of ISIS & JAN in Syria today, Brian Fishman, CTC, 26 Nov 2013, notes:
The dramatic growth of al-Qa`ida affiliates in Syria is a direct result of its pre-existing networks in Iraq. These networks were built in 2004 and 2005, became nearly dominant in 2006 and 2007,
ISIS also has strong ties the Baathish party of Saddam Hussein and its military. Radwan Mortada in al Akhbar, tells us about that leadership:
The page indicates that the ISIS leadership council is 100 percent Iraqi, saying that Baghdadi[ISIS leader] would not accept any other nationality, since he does not trust anyone. The number of people in the council always changes, ranging between eight and 13 people. The leadership of the council is held by three former Iraqi army officers who served during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

They are commanded by a former Iraqi army colonel called Hajji Bakr, who joined ISIS when it was under the command of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (killed in 2010). Hajji Bakr was appointed as a consultant to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hafs al-Muhajir, after providing them with military information about combat plans and communication methods with former Baath commanders.
The Assad family history of collaborating with jihadists goes back even farther than that; back to daddy Hafez Assad. In the 1970's and 1980's Syria and Syrian occupied Lebanon became a safe haven for some of the most violent terror groups in the region and beyond. This is what the US State Department "1995 Patterns of Global Terrorism" had to say about Syria:
Syria provides safe-haven and support for several groups that engage in international terrorism. Spokesmen for some of these groups, particularly Palestinian rejectionists, continue to claim responsibility for attacks in Israel and the occupied territories/Palestinian autonomous areas. Several radical terrorist groups maintain training camps or other facilities on Syrian territory and in Syrian-controlled areas of Lebanon, such as Ahmad Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC), which has its headquarters near Damascus. Syria grants basing privileges or refuge to a wide variety of groups engaged in terrorism. These include HAMAS, the PFLP-GC, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and the Japanese Red Army (JRA).
We can see that Bashar al-Assad is well versed when it comes to playing both sides of the terror games. This becomes even more apparent when you look at some of the phony terrorist attacks he has spawn.

Assad's "Terrorist Attacks" Matrix Hat Tricks

This list of suspicious regime terrorist claims is by no means complete or inclusive. These are just some that we know about, but they should be enough to open one's eyes as to the deceitful character of the Syrian government:
  • Dec 2011: Suspicious explosions declared "jihadist terrorists" by regime in minutes.
  • Michael Weiss writing for World Affairs, criticizes the snap conclusions made by the Assad regime and Guardian reporter Jonathan Steele that al Qaeda has behind a Damascus bombing that took place on 23 Dec 2011:
Steele might wish to revisit the Assad regime’s narrative that Bin Ladenist forces are now setting things off in Damascus in coordination with not only the Syrian opposition but the United States and Israel. Surely a Guardian contributor will have found it suspicious that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem last week predicted that an al-Qaeda attack would occur in the country on the eve of the much anticipated arrival of an Arab League team of observers. Al-Moallem’s deputy, Faisal Mekdad, wasted no time lamenting his boss’s prediction come true: “On the first day after the arrival of the Arab observers,” Mekdad told the BBC shortly after the explosions were reported, “this is the gift we get from the terrorists and al-Qaeda. But we are going to do all we can to facilitate the Arab League mission.”

I love the use of the word “facilitate” in that sentence. As the prominent Syrian oppositionist Ammar Abdulhamid writes on his Syrian Revolution Digest blog, the whole purpose of Friday’s al-Qaeda Surprise story was to distract the world from witnessing yet another massacre in Idleb Province, this one focused on the village of Kafar Ouaid, where an estimated 95 people were killed in the time it took for Western eyes and ears to train on Damascus.
According to the Syrian state media, suicide bombers drove two cars rigged with explosives to points just outside two hard-to-reach facilities: the State Security Administration building and the Military Security base in Kafarsouseh, a neighborhood in central Damascus. These facilities are preceded by several military checkpoints, and any person or vehicle desiring access to them will need to carry a special permit. Cars also tend to be searched thoroughly before being able to roll right on up to the doorstep of secret police headquarters. When a terrorist attack is perpetrated, it takes oodles of man-hours of forensic analysis and data-gathering to determine the party responsible and the methods used. Not so in Syria. The regime’s Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported in an impressive 13 minutes that al-Qaeda was the culprit and that a man called Munir al-Binjali “conducted” the attack. The only problem is, al-Binjali is alive and well in Saudi Arabia, not blown to bits in Damascus.

Ah, but temporal contradictions are no match for Baathist logic. Syrian television cut straight to one of its many dolled-up talking heads, who reassured a troubled nation of the “arrest of the terrorists who blew themselves up today.”
    While al Qaeda is usually in the habit of taking credit for its attacks, especially when they are as audacious as this one, upon hearing that they were being blamed, the al-Qaeda–linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which are based in Lebanon, issued a communiqué stating:
“The mujahideen have no connection whatsoever to these sinister bombings [in Damascus] … Those who are truly responsible are the beneficiaries, the Assad regime and its intelligence agents.”
  • May 2012: Video: State security caught fabricating evidence of phony arms seizure.
  • Al Arabiya News Exposes Assad Phony Terrorist Arms Seizures
    All Voices has provided this English language description of the video:
Syria - Corrupt Syria cops sell video clip of themselves planting fake arms evidence to smear pro-democracy movement. - 15000 lira was earned by one dirty cop who sold a hidden video of other dirty cops opening packages of brand new weapons and then putting them in a pile with a bunch of weapons allegedly seized from the pro-democracy protesters. Yes - The Syria security forces are so dirty they even will make hidden videos of each other committing crimes and evil acts and then sell the video for money.
  • May 2012: Regime forces massacre 108 civilians in Houla and blame al Nusra.
  • Houla was the site of one of the first well publicized massacres in Syria. 108 people were killed, including 34 women and 49 children. Assad said it was al Nusra. Koert Debeuf, writing in eurobserver, tells how Assad folded the emergence of real terror groups into his narrative:
Even though there were no armed rebels during the first months of the revolt, Assad kept on repeating that the protesters were nothing more than terrorists and extremists. He must have been very happy when in January 2012 finally the first Jihadist group, Jabhat Al Nusra, appeared. He could use them as the reason for bombing Baba Amr (Homs) to the ground in February 2012 and (falsely) blame them for having perpetrated the massacre of Houla (Homs) in May of the same year.
    The regime said al-Nura did the massacre although UN, HRW and AI investigations, among many others, blamed regime forces. Many eyewitness reports left no doubt who was responsible, like this 3 June 2012 report in Al Arabiya News:
Syrian air force officer defects, tells horrors of Houla massacre
Raslan, who served until last Saturday in the Syrian Air Force in the strategic port city of Tartous, said he had been in Houla on leave when the town was shelled just after 1 p.m. last Friday. It was then invaded by a civilian and gang-like militia, known as the Shabiha, he said.

Raslan said he was in his house, around 300 meters from the site of the first massacre in the village of Taldous, when several hundred men, whom he knew to be Shabiha members, rode into town in cars and army trucks and on motorbikes.

“A lot of them were bald and many had beards,” he told The Observer. “Many wore white sports shoes and army pants. They were shouting: ‘Shabiha forever, for your eyes, Assad.’ It was very obvious who they were."

“We used to be told that armed groups killed people and the Free Syria Army burned down houses,” he said. “They lied to us. Now I saw what they did with my own eyes.”
    The Assad regime has insisted all along that "terrorists" committed the Houla massacre and Mother Agnes-Mariam has backed it up on this, just as Assad's nun has backed his story that jihadist terrorists used sarin gas in Damascus in August. The UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all looked into the Houla massacre and came to the conclusion that the regime did it, nevertheless the regime stuck to its story as expressed in this New York Times headline: Assad Condemns Houla Massacre, Blaming Terrorists.
  • Jul 2012: Defecting ambassador tells of Damascus false flag terrorist bombs.
  • Nawaf Fares, formerly Syria's ambassador to Iraq, defected in July 2012. He was interviewed by James Bay of Al Jazeera live on Inside Syria. Among the many interesting things he said was that all the large explosions in Damascus were not the work of terrorist but of the regime. He said the explosion that struck the intelligence headquarters, most people got a 15 minute notice to get out of the building. that's how he knew it was the work of the regime. He said they had also done this sort of thing in Iraq. [Al Jazeera video now blocked in the US]
  • Sep 2012: Defector from Assad's PR team tells how they fabricated news.
  • Abdullah al-Omar is a defector that claims he worked in the press office of the presidential palace in Damascus, as part of a 15-person team under the direction of long-time government spokeswoman and presidential adviser Bouthaina Shabaan. After he defected in Sept 2012, CNN conducted a four hour interview with him and reported:
"Our job was to fabricate, make deceptions and cover up for Bashar al-Assad's crimes," he said.
During a four-hour interview in Istanbul, al-Omar described in detail some of the propaganda methods used by pro-government media.

During the government's artillery bombardment of the rebel-held neighborhood of Baba Amr in the city of Homs, loyalist women were brought in and disguised as locals for government television interviews, he said.

"The women would say that the massacres against men, women and children were perpetrated by armed gangs, when it was actually the Syrian regime, security forces and the Shabiha" -- the pro-government militia -- "who were behind these horrendous acts," al-Omar said.

These claims are backed by the accounts of residents of Homs, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal at the hands of Syrian security forces.

"I remember that day as if it was yesterday, when state TV showed Assad parading through Baba Amr, not a single resident was from the area," said a native of Homs, now exiled to neighboring Lebanon. "They brought them from neighboring towns from the countryside so they could pretend he was getting a hero's welcome, that he was greeted as a beloved leader, when in reality everyone in Homs knew he was behind the destruction of every house and the killing of every innocent civilian on Homs and every other city in Syria."
[Al Jazeera video now blocked in the US]
  • Jan 2013: Defected TV reporter tells how phony video about fake kidnapping was made.
  • Adham Saif al-Din, writing for Asharq Al-Awsat, 4 Jan 2013, spoken to an anonymous "Syrian regime media defector, who previously worked at the pro-Assad Addounia TV" and reported:
Al-Arabiya published a video, leaked by the same media defector, which shows a young Syrian woman – her features blurred to protect her identity – relating the story of how she was kidnapped by Syrian rebels in the city of Harasta in Rif Dimashq governorate. Following this, we see a clip of one of the young men confessing to his part in this kidnapping; the only problem is that the story is a complete sham. In fact, the compete video clip shows the young Syrian woman – her features uncovered – relating the same story, only this time smiling and stumbling over her lines.

The Syrian defector informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the scene will have been pre-prepared at one of the security branches. Following this, Syrian state media correspondents will go to record confessions with the speaker being prompted in what he must say to harm the Syrian revolution and revolutionary forces.”

He added “the large number of security branches and their lack of coordination means that sometimes blatant contradictions appear on television such as with regards to the killing of Sarriya Hassoun, the son of Syrian Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun. Syrian state television broadcast the confession of two separate terrorist cells – telling two different stories – regarding Sarriya Hassoun’s death. Of course, both stories highlighted the aspects that the Syrian regime wanted highlighting.”
The PressTV video does depict the very ugly scene of three men being burned alive but this didn't happen in Syria, and it wasn't done by "the al-Qaeda-affiliated group al-Nusra Front militants" as the pro-Assad propaganda outlet claims. That video came from Iraq and was posted on-line 09 April 2011, almost two years before the events PressTV claims it is showing. It shows up as a link in a posting to the Islam Watch website on 9 April 2011 with the title Islamic Barbarism: Gays Burned Alive in Iraq. The link leads to a video posted on Zandiq.com.
  • Aug 2013 Phony al Nusra massacre at Tal Abyal sold with phony pictures.
  • I broke this story when I showed that a photo which many Assad supporters, like the FARS News Agency, were claiming to be of children massacred by al Nusra in Tal Abyad, Syria on 5 Aug 2013, was actually a picture of children killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan a year before and credited to Daniel Berehulak of Getty Images and published on 23 July 2012. See BREAKING NEWS: Fake Photo Exposes Assad Regime Lie about Rebel Massacre in Tal Abyad
    Kids killed in Afgan drone strike in 2012. Picture used for Tal Abyad massacre claims
  • Dec 2013 In Adra, another phony jihadist terrorist attack sold with fake pictures.
  • This fake massacre was backed up by a whole series of phony pictures including four showing piles of bodies, one of a burial ceremony, one of Adra refugees and even one of a jihadist raising a severed head. I got busy on Google and found "prior art" for all of them. Every picture that the Assad people claimed to be of the massacre in Adra turned out to be of another time and another place. I published my findings in Fake Adra massacre photos expose bloody hands on Left
This history of lies and fabrication should alert us to the fact that nothing reported by the Assad regime can be taken at face value. This caution also applies to state run Russian and Iranian outlets like RT and PressTV.

The Assad Regime's Long History with Jihadists

The Assad family has had an association with Islamist extremists that goes back to his father's time. Farid Ghadry, a Syrian writer from Aleppo recalled recent history in a piece titled Assad is al-Qaeda, 19 Dec 2013:
During the Iraq War, Assad trained, supplied, and facilitated al-Qaeda’s terror against US troops causing over 4,400 casualties and 32,000 wounded. In response, the US chose not to confront him. Not one shot was fired to weaken Assad with the exception of one raid on the Syrian-Iraqi town border of Bou Kamal that netted an al-Qaeda facilitator recruited by the Assad regime to wreak havoc on US troops.
During the Iraq War the Assad Regime enjoyed close contact and a good working relationship with some of the same forces, and even some of the same personalities, that it now claims are 80-90% of the people it is fighting against in Syria.

After the US withdrew from Iraq, Assad had these al Qaeda terrorists locked up, saying they were a threat to state security. He also announced that he was now a willing partner in the US "War on Terror" and began cooperating with the CIA's torture and special rendition programs. Using Seymour Hersh as a conduit, he sent a message to Obama [6 Apr 2009]:
Assad, in his interview with me, acknowledged, “We do not say that we are a democratic country. We do not say that we are perfect, but we are moving forward.” And he focused on what he had to offer. He said that he had a message for Obama: Syria, as a secular state, and the United States faced a common enemy in Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism.
So we can see that long before the popular uprising, Assad was already selling himself as a partner in fighting the same people he had recently given safe haven to.

After the mass protests for democracy broke out in March 2011, Assad started letting these Islamists out of prison. He declared a series of amnesties and put over a thousand Islamists and jihadists back on the streets. Many of these former prisoners soon found themselves in the ranks, even in the leadership, of ISIS and al Nusra. In the article already cited, Sarah Birke says:
Syrian lawyers have documented how in the early weeks of the revolt, the regime let out Islamist prisoners from Saidnaya prison—probably to foment radical Islamism within the opposition.
After mass democracy protests broke out in March 2011, Assad declared three separate amnesties between March and June of 2011. Al Jazeera reported, 21 Jun 2011:
Bashar al-Assad, Syria's president, has ordered a new general amnesty for all crimes committed in the country up until June 20, in another apparent attempt to calm months of protests against his rule.

The state news agency, SANA, announced the move on Tuesday, nearly a month after Assad issued a similar amnesty for all political crimes.

"President Assad has issued a decree granting a general amnesty for crimes committed before the date of June 20, 2011," SANA reported, without giving details.

The president ordered a reprieve on May 31 for all political prisoners in the country, including members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Hundreds of detainees were released, according to rights groups.
That last was a big deal because in Assad's Syria, mere membership in the Muslim Brotherhood could get one the death penalty. Bashar al-Assad said these amnesties were meant as concessions to the democracy movement, but that explanation just doesn't stand up to scrutiny because while he was releasing Islamic terrorists and even common criminals from his prisons, he was shooting unarmed peaceful protesters in ever increasing numbers.

One ex-prisoner has been able to identify other ex-prisoners in the ranks of ISIS and al Nusra. His story was told in the NOW piece:
Activist Maher Esper says: “I saw prisoners who were with me in the Saydnaya prison in most YouTube videos since the emergence of Nusra, ISIS, and other Islamic brigades.” Syrian regime forces arrested Esper in 2006 and sentenced him to seven years in prison, five of which were spent at the Saydnaya prison before he was encompassed in the presidential amnesty issued at the start of the revolution.

Esper asserts, “There’s a person I saw in a video in which fourteen Raqqa clans pledged allegiance to ISIS, he used to sleep on the bunk directly above mine. The regime released those individuals despite their involvement in murders, even in prison. All those I saw became members or leaders of ISIS (like Nadim Balous), al-Nusra (like Baha’ al-Bash), Jaysh al-Islam (like Zahran Alloush), Ahrar al-Sham (like Hassane Abboud), or Suqur al-Sham brigades (like Ahmad Issa al-Sheikh).”
It is recognized that some of those released in these amnesties eventually found new homes in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIS] and al Nusra Front, and given his past cozy relationships with these people, it is very easy to imagine that some of them became his covert agents and are working for him still.

How ISIS treats the Media

In ISIS is the Child of the Regime, Abd Hakwati recounts how ISIS treats the media and relates a very important admission from an ISIS jihadist:
“They asked for my ID and if I was working with the Free Syrian Army or the [Syrian] Military Council,” said cameraman Abd Hakwati, recounting how a masked man arrested him at a roadblock at the entrance of the supposedly-liberated city of Raqqa. The man said through an Iraqi accent, “You cannot enter Raqqa before you get the emir’s approval.”

Hakwati goes on: “A while later, another masked man came over and asked me which institution I was working for and what media channels I communicated with. He noted the address of the person I was going to see in Raqqa and why I was going there, and then allowed me to go in. I felt like I was entering a foreign land for the first time, as though we were back under the Syrian regime with all its tyranny and repression, albeit in an extremist Islamist form.”

This is the violence of the Assad regime-bred Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which spread its doctrinal control by the sword in regions that were once known as “liberated.” In early 2012, Hakwati took his camera and started shooting short documentaries in northern Syria. “A masked man came in Deir Ezzor’s Mayadin and pulled me by the hair, insulting me and threatening to slaughter me. He took me to the Religious Committee. My friend tried to intervene by telling them, ‘We are sons of the same revolution,’ but the masked man answered, ‘I have nothing to do with this revolution of yours.’”
The NOW piece continues:
ISIS increasingly had recourse to kidnapping activists, media professionals, and photographers. In so doing, it is acting exactly like the Syrian regime by arresting and killing anyone with a camera. For instance, it recently kidnapped photographer Ziad al-Homsi on October 28, 2013 in the Raqqa province.

Homsi is an activist from Douma whose father is detained in regime prisons and whose mother is besieged in Moadamiyah in the Damascus Province. The names of many media professionals and journalists who disappeared in the liberated areas were published, only to find out later that they are being held by ISIS, such as journalist Obeida al-Batal, the Orient News crew in Idlib Province, Lebanese journalist Samir Kassab, the Sky News crew in Aleppo, and others. Far from stopping at kidnappings, ISIS started killing media professionals, the latest such murder being that of journalist Mohammad Said in Aleppo.

The Phony War: ISIS versus Assad

Tridni Valka tells us of the war that has broken out between the Free Syrian Army and ISIS, and how artillery support given to ISIS by the Assad regime allowed them to retake a position:
"On the military front a full scale war is also being waged against ISIS. On 3 January groups affiliated to the Free Syrian Army as well as the newly formed Islamic Front and Jaysh Al Mujahidiin started to engage in fierce battles with ISIS, driving out the group from many strongholds in the north, and capturing a large number of ISIS fighters. As of 7 January, twitter reports from activists suggested that ISIS had been driven out of 10 locations in Aleppo, 6 locations in Idlib, 3 in Deir Al Zour and 1 in Hama.

Some areas liberated from ISIS, such as Manbej and Binnish have been subjected to fierce shelling by the Assad regime following rebel takeover, leading in the case of Binnish to ISIS being able to retake the town and increasing speculation of military coordination between ISIS and the regime.

ISIS has shown it is not leaving without a fight, committing a massacre against FSA troops in Rastan. On 6 January ISIS executed 50 prisoners it was holding in detention in Aleppo including women and activists as well as executing detainees in Harem, Idlib before pulling out of the area. There are also concerns that ISIS withdrawal from some areas, whilst bringing in reinforcements from elsewhere, may be indicative that they are now preparing a counter-offensive.”
Peter Clifford tells us how the ISIS [ISIL] helped the Assad regime strengthen a position. These are things allies normally do for one another:
After ISIL removed all moderate Opposition forces from around the besieged Division 17 Government-held base near Raqqah city and allowed the regime to re-supply their troops there, the voices claiming the Jihadists are in league with Assad continue to grow.

Liberated ISIL prisons have been found to contain many fighters from moderate brigades, but not one single Syrian Army soldier or a member of Assad’s security services.

Nor do ISIL headquarters and buildings, very obvious with their black flags and banners, seem to be the target of regime war planes.
This shouldn't be hard for Assad's planes to find!
The ISIS headquarters in Raqqa has become the iconic sign of collusion that everybody remarks on. While every civilian and FSA institution in Raqqa gets bombed, it remains untouched. Its becoming an embarrassment to them. Sooner or later they will be forced to bomb it just to save face. “Day of Rage Against Al-Qaeda & Assad”  says:
“(…) when the regime has carried out onslaughts against Raqqa and Aleppo, its attacks have been on civilian (mainly working class) neighbourhoods and not on ISIS positions or headquarters. The ISIS headquarters in Al Raqqa are stationed in the largest building in the city so they are not difficult to miss, but instead regime airstrikes target schools killing students. ISIS has acted as a scapegoat for the regime’s attack on a popular uprising. Assad’s prisons are full of secular, civilian, non-violent activists whilst Al Qaeda affiliated prisoners were released in the early days of the revolution.” (Idem)
In ISIS is the Child of the Regime Nawfal, an activist, tells us what happened when she visited the Raqqa ISIS HQ after an air raid :
On September 29, 2013, 15 students at Raqqa’s Commerce School were killed in a regime air raid. “I went to the ISIS headquarters and was showered with insults leveled by masked Tunisian men,” says Nawfal. “So I fled to a female friend’s house. ISIS is currently after me and its emir has ordered my killing and threatened my family. What I don’t understand is why the regime bombed the school rather than the security centers housing ISIS and the Nusra Front.”
How Assad Finances the ISIS

Radwan Mortada in al Akhbar, 10 Jan 2014, describes how ISIS gets money to operate:
confiscating the belongings of Shia, Christians, other non-Muslims, and regime collaborators, even if they were Sunni. In addition, they took over oil sources, energy and fuel plants, government factories, and any other financial source owned by the Iraqi state. That which they were not able to completely confiscate, they would threaten to kill their owners or blow up the company, unless they paid monthly protection money under the moniker of taxation. Installing checkpoints on the long highways, they also collected money from commercial trucks.
They also get significant foreign contributions, Sarah Birke notes:
Fundraising campaigns on Twitter by such figures as the Kuwaiti Sheikh Hajjaj al-Ajmi indicate that significant money is coming to ISIS from private donors in the Gulf.
In other words, they get money from all the usual terrorist sources. Funding by selling Syria's very ample oil and gas resources is where Bashar al-Assad comes in. The New York Times reported 29 Jan 2014:
Control of them[oil fields] has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is even selling fuel to the Assad government, lending weight to allegations by opposition leaders that it is secretly working with Damascus to weaken the other rebel groups and discourage international support for their cause.
American officials say that his government has facilitated the group’s rise not only by purchasing its oil but by exempting some of its headquarters from the airstrikes that have tormented other rebel groups.

The Nusra Front and other groups are providing fuel to the government, too, in exchange for electricity and relief from airstrikes, according to opposition activists in Syria’s oil regions.
The Telegraph broke this story nine days earlier, as I reported in this blog at the time:
Syria's Assad accused of boosting Al-Qaeda with secret oil deals

Western intelligence suggests Bashar al-Assad collaborating with jihadists to persuade West the uprising is terrorist-led

By Ruth Sherlock, in Istanbul and Richard Spencer
7:53PM GMT 20 Jan 2014

The Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad has funded and co-operated with al-Qaeda in a complex double game even as the terrorists fight Damascus, according to new allegations by Western intelligence agencies, rebels and al-Qaeda defectors.

Jabhat al-Nusra, and the even more extreme Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), the two al-Qaeda affiliates operating in Syria, have both been financed by selling oil and gas from wells under their control to and through the regime, intelligence sources have told The Daily Telegraph.
“Assad’s vow to strike terrorism with an iron fist is nothing more than bare-faced hypocrisy,” an intelligence source said. “At the same time as peddling a triumphant narrative about the fight against terrorism, his regime has made deals to serve its own interests and ensure its survival.”

Intelligence gathered by Western secret services suggested the regime began collaborating actively with these groups again in the spring of 2013. When Jabhat al-Nusra seized control of Syria’s most lucrative oil fields in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, it began funding its operations in Syria by selling crude oil, with sums raised in the millions of dollars.

“The regime is paying al-Nusra to protect oil and gas pipelines under al-Nusra’s control in the north and east of the country, and is also allowing the transport of oil to regime-held areas,” the source said. “We are also now starting to see evidence of oil and gas facilities under ISIS control.” More...
Cui bono, (who benefits) is a favored question. "Who pays?" is another. It tells us who works for who and with al Nusra and ISIS receiving millions from Assad through the oil pipeline, it should be obvious who they work for.

Assad's Input Looms Large in ISIS & JAN

Captured al-Qaeda fighters have also been a source of information leading to the conclusion that there is a direct command relationship between the Assad regime and these hard line Islamists groups. Al-Arabiya published a piece about this 20 January 2014 that detailed ISIS returning defectors to the Assad regime and carrying out bombings on regime orders:
Al-Qaeda detainees reveal ties with Assad

Al Arabiya News Channel aired a video on Monday showing detained members of al-Qaeda’s offshoot in Syria, with some telling stories that suggest links to the Syrian regime.
Ever since the fighting broke out many in both sides were killed or detained. Some of those al-Qaeda members who fell to rebels’ hands said ISIS had ties with the Syrian regime.

“It happened once that a Syrian regime officer and 11 others defected and drove their vehicle through Masila [north of Raqqa]. We received ordered to arrest them and hand them over back to the regime,” a detained al-Qaeda member said.

He said ISIS was behind a bombing that destroyed Raqqa’s train station last year. “We received orders from Commander Abu Anas al-Iraqi to bomb the train station. We were also ordered to fire on ambulances and civilians trying to reach the victims,” he said.

Abu Anas al-Iraqi leads an al-Qaeda brigade in the province of Raqqa. He is nicknamed al-Iraqi after his country Iraq, where he used to work as an intelligence officer, according to another detainee.

“Abu Anas is financed directly by the regime, through Iran and Iraq. His brigade is specialized in kidnappings, car bombs and targeted assassinations of FSA members,” the detainee said. More...
While much of the collaboration between the jihadists and the government may be chalked-up to happy coincidence, there is a growing body of evidence that points to a much more direct command and control relationship between the Assad regime and at least a section of the ISIS. SOC member Michel Kilo told al Monitor of evidence that some leaders in the ISIS are Syrian special services officers:
“There are photos that have been found of several emirs of ISIS with [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” said Kilo, who spoke with Al-Monitor on the sidelines of the Geneva II talks.

“The pictures were taken before they became emirs in ISIS, when they were all officers in the Syrian special service. There are documents sent by the special service to ISIS telling them to capture or kidnap people in Raqqa and Jarabalus, and these documents will be published. And you will see how the regime fabricated these extremist groups that did not exist in our country at the beginning of the revolution.

“Without a doubt, we will use this as an argument during the negotiations,” Kilo warned. “We have officers who have defected from the [Syrian] special service who worked to create these terrorist organizations; people who used to work with al-Qaeda. They know the names and the dates and what they have done along with the directions they were given. All this is documented. The chief of the cabinet of [special security adviser to Assad] Mr. Ali Mamlouk defected one year ago, and he has documented this. If [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid Moallem will talk about terrorism, he will receive a true lecture about terrorists. And you shall see.” More...
And we even have it from the horse's mouth, or lion's roar, we might say. The National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces reports:
Assad Admits to having Groups Fighting “Within the Ranks of Opposition”

Press Statement
Syrian Coalition
Istanbul, Turkey
December 5, 2013

Arab newspapers reported that lawyers from the Jordanian bar association stated that during a meeting, Assad mentioned to them that he has “allies and fighters working for him even within the ranks of opposition.”

These remarks, by the head of the regime, shed light on some of the violations that took place in liberated areas. Some groups with agendas, that do not serve the Syrian people’s interests, still work for the regime and receive support from it, while claiming to be fighting against it. These groups continuously take actions that have adverse effects on the revolution. Furthermore, they pose a threat not only to Syria but to the whole region. More...
We are now far past the point at which anybody can credibly claim ISIS and al Nusra are a part of the opposition to Bashar al Assad, let alone, hold up their acts as actions for which the opposition should be blamed.

How the Revolutionary Opposition is Fighting ISIS

As the fight against the Islamist extremists has developed along with the fight against the regime, so has the realization that they are extensions of the regime that pretend to be within the opposition. Sarah Birke notes:
ISIS’s rapid growth is subject to much conjecture. The most common speculation I encountered was that ISIS is a creation of Damascus, or its ally Iran, intended to fragment the opposition and ruin the revolution. “Simply, we see it as an extension of the regime,” Khaled Kamal, a sheikh from Latakia now based in Antakya said.
The Syrian opposition is now also beginning to officially reflect this position. From Al Arabiya we have this report:
Syrian opposition: Jihadists ‘serve Assad’s interests’

2 January 2014
Syria’s opposition National Coalition described on Wednesday al-Qaeda-linked group in the country of having ties to the Syrian regime, and accused it of serving the government’s interests.

The strong criticism against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) comes after the group reportedly tortured and killed an opposition doctor in northern Syria.

“The Coalition believes that ISIL is closely linked to the terrorist regime and serves the interests of the clique of President Bashar al-Assad, directly or indirectly,” Agence France-Presse quoted the Syrian opposition group as saying in a statement.

“The murder of Syrians by this group leaves no doubt about the intentions behind their creation, their objectives and the agendas they serve, which is confirmed by the nature of their terrorist actions hostile to the Syrian revolution,” it added.

It called on rebels who had joined ISIL to abandon the group and for the “prosecution of the leaders of this terrorist organization along with the criminals of the regime.” More...

Kafranbel on terrorist ISIS
The fight between ISIS and just about everybody else in opposition ranks has also broken out into fierce armed struggle which has taken over 2300 lives.The Los Angeles Times reported early progress in the fight against the ISIS:
"The rebels have achieved tremendous progress against ISIS in all the points of conflict, liberating more than 80% of the Idlib countryside and 65% of Aleppo and its countryside" said Abu Bakr, a media activist for the Sham News Network in Raqqa.
After those initial successes, ISIS was able to regroup, counter-attack, and regain some of that ground, but now the military battle against the ISIS is making progress. al Arabiya reported 21 Jan 2014:
There has been heavy fighting between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The fighting broke out last month after reports that ISIS, the al-Qaeda affiliate, was enforcing a strict version of Shariah in the areas it controls and was carrying out mass executions of fellow rebel fighters it accuses of apostasy.

The FSA, joined with other moderate rebel groups, declared a war on ISIS, accusing it of cooperating with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and of seeking to divide rebels.
And the ISIS is calling for a truce, 19 Jan 2014:
“Today, the (Islamic) state is reaching out to you to stop fighting us, to focus on fighting the nusairiyah,” the voice in the message, purportedly that of ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, said, using the term often used by jihadists when referring to the Syrian regime.

The remarks mark a shift for ISIS, which said earlier this month it would “crush” opposition fighters and considered members of the Syrian National Coalition and the military command of the Free Syrian Army to be “legitimate targets.”
Now even al Qaeda is Breaking Up with ISIS

BBC News is reporting even al Qaeda Central is throwing Baghdadi's ISIS under the bus:
Al-Qaeda disavows ISIS militants in Syria

3 Feb 2014
Al-Qaeda has insisted it has no links with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), which has been locked in deadly clashes with rebels in Syria. An online statement purportedly from the group's general command said ISIS was "not a branch of al-Qaeda".

Last May, Ayman al-Zawahiri rejected an attempt by the Iraq-based group to merge with the al-Nusra Front in Syria. Since then, ISIS has been condemned for attacking fellow rebels and abusing civilian supporters of the opposition. More...

In Conclusion

Although Bashar al-Assad claimed his opposition was mobbed-up with al Qaeda from the beginning, there had been no large al Qaeda presence in Syria in the years before the popular democratic uprising began in March 2011. Assad encouraged the creation of these groups by letting over a thousand Islamists out of prison and sending his own agents in. Most likely he worked networks he created with them during Iraq War to bring in foreign jihadists. He has been giving them a pass militarily and been paying their expenses.

They have given Assad's story about fighting terrorist legs. They have given Assad and the media stories about rebel beheadings and other atrocities. They have raised sectarian conflict and cost the revolution a lot of friends, They have terrorized the people and caused them to flee from liberated areas. Their methods are similar to the regime's, but worst, and cause many to see Assad as the lesser of two evils. They have also discouraged foreign support for the struggle against Assad.

It is no accident that the actions of ISIS are so beneficial to the Assad regime, they are Assad's agents within the revolution. They must be expelled and then defeated, along with the Assad regime, as is happening now.

For too long, many observers of the conflict in Syria have looked upon it as a two-sided struggle with Assad and friends on one side and everybody else, i.e. "the rebels," on the other side. This was usually accompanied by a view that blamed "the rebels" for all the atrocities the Assad regime claimed they did as well as all the atrocities actually committed by ISIS and al Nusra. This in turn has been used to support the "both sides are bad" reason for doing nothing about the slaughter in Syria.

It should now be clear to all that the simplistic equation for Syria is wrong. It is a complex, many-sided struggle, but this complexity, or the wool that Assad seeks to pull over our eyes, does not give us good cause to abandon the people.

The existential question of our time is human extinction. Syria is a test we are failing

This just in:
Syrian rebel allies strike blow against ISIL

al Jazeera
10 Feb 2014 13:38
Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have withdrawn from Syria's oil-rich eastern province of Deir al-Zor, activists and rebels said, after days of heavy fighting with rivals.

"The ISIL fighters have almost completely withdrawn from Deir al-Zor. The fighters are moving to Hassaka and Raqqa (provinces)," a source from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Nusra told the Reuters news agency on Monday. More...

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