The influence of Syria’s foreign fighters gets overstated

Der Spiegel reports: Once just a small group, now there are several thousand foreign jihadist fighters present in Syria today. Though some rebel leaders say their presence does pose a danger, the impact of these groups is often exaggerated by the Western media.

The role of foreign jihadists linked to al-Qaida in Syria has been the subject of intense discussion in the Western media, among think tanks and inside governments. Yet despite the attention paid to the issue, the research behind the reports published is often thin.

There’s a good reason for this, too: Very few foreign journalists are still traveling within the areas of Syria that are no longer controlled by the regime of dictator Bashar Assad. Of course, other factors also influence the reporting. Right from the start, the regime described the insurgency in its propaganda as the action of “foreign terrorists,” and it has often used the Russian media in particular as a platform for spreading false accounts of events.

In early September, for example, the regime attributed an attack by diverse rebel groups on two checkpoints held by Christian militiamen in the western Syrian city of Malloula to al-Qaida. It claimed that the group had attacked and damaged churches and that it drove Christians into the streets and forced them to convert to Islam, with the threat of decapitation if they didn’t. This horrific version of the story made its way into reporting by American and British news agencies. Indeed, few reported that the nuns at Maaloula’s Tekla monastery had denied that such attacks had even taken place. [Continue reading…]

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