Roy Gutman reports: In the spring of 2012, hundreds of militant Islamists crossed into eastern Syria from Iraq under the eyes of the Assad regime’s extensive security apparatus. As they arrived, Syrian intelligence services received two sets of instructions.
One was in writing, and contained the names and details of the jihadists, along with the instruction to “arrest and kill them.”
But that was the cover story. Even as it circulated a “kill” order, the regime sent out official messengers to convey the opposite message.
“They came from command headquarters and held meetings of the intelligence offices,” said Mahmoud al Nasr, a former intelligence official in northern Syria who defected in October 2012. ‘They told us: ‘stay away from them. Don’t touch them.’”
The jihadists arrived in groups of three, sometimes five, then it became hundreds, he said. “Everyone of them started to bring his friends,” al Nasr said. The majority joined Jabhat al Nusra, a group that publicly declared its affiliation with al Qaeda in April 2013 and then split into two groups, Nusra and the Islamic State. Some of the infiltrated jihadists joined Ahrar al Sham, a third and seemingly more moderate Islamist group.
The conflicting instructions sheds light on the little-known relationship between the Assad regime and the Islamic State. Assad claims that his domestic political opposition are all terrorists intent on destroying the Syrian state and regularly appeals to the international community for help in battling terrorism. But the regime in fact facilitated the buildup and expansion of the real terror group in Syria. [Continue reading…]