September 24, 2003
Action Alerts

ZOA Backgrounder: Syria’s Ties To Al Qaeda And Other Terrorist Groups


I. Introduction


Syria’s links to terrorist groups have received widespread public attention in recent weeks.


The New York Times revealed on September 24, 2003, that a U.S. Air Force translator has been indicted for providing Syria with information about the Guantanamo Bay prison for Al Qaeda terrorists, and a Muslim chaplain in the U.S. Army has been detained on similar charges.


Undersecretary of State John Bolton, testifying before Congress on September 16, 2003, acknowledged that Syria “offers physical sanctuary and political protection to groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, whose terrorist operations have killed hundreds of innocent people, including Americans.” (Hezbollah, which is based in Syrian-occupied Lebanon, carried out the 1983 car-bomb massacre of 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon, among other attacks.)


President Bush said in his Mideast policy speech on June 24, 2002, that Syria must choose the right side in the war n terror by closing terrorist camps and expelling terrorist organizational Although Syria has clearly chosen the wrong side, and has not shut down terror camps or expelled terror groups, Undersecretary . Bolton did not indicate any steps that the Bush administration will be taking in response to Syria’s actions.


Moreover, the State Department earlier this year attempted to delegitimize and humiliate critics of the Bush administration’s soft-on-Syria policy. In April 2003, former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich suggested that Secretary of State Colin Powell should delay visiting Syrian dictator Bashar Assad until Assad stops harboring terrorist groups and Iraqi war criminals. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage publicly questioned Gingrich’s mental stability, asserting that Gingrich is “off his meds and out of therapy.” Assistant Secretary of State A. Elizabeth Jones, likewise tried to delegitimize and publicly humiliate Gingrich, by telling an interviewer that Gingrich “is an idiot and you can publish that.” (Washington Post, April 28, 2003)



II. Syria’s Support for Al Qaeda


* The 2001 edition of the State Department’s annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, revealed that in Syrian-occupied Lebanon, “a variety of terrorist groups—including Hizballah, Usama Bin Ladin’s (UBT) al-Qaida network, Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Asbat al-Ansar, and several local Sunni extremist organizations—continued to operate with varying degrees of impunity, conducting training and other operational activities … UBL’s al-Qaida network maintained a presence in Lebanon.”


* General Aharon Zeevi Farkash, chief of Israeli Military Intelligence, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee ‘that members of Al Qaada who fled Afghanistan have taken shelter in Syria and Lebanon over the past few days,” according to the Israeli daily Ma’ariv. (Jan. 22, 2002)



III. Syrian Support for Iraqi Terrorists


Undersecretary of State John Bolton, testifying before Congress on September 16, 2003, said “Syria permitted volunteers to pass into Iraq to attack and kill our service members during the war, and is still doing so.”



IV. Syrian Support for Palestinian Arab Terrorists


Secretary of State Colin Powell said in July 2003 that, despite U.S. demands that Syria shut down and expel terror groups from Damascus, the Syrian government had only taken “minor steps.” Powell said that the U.S. wants Syria “not only to close offices, ‘but to expel from Damascus members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” Instead, “They seem to have told the terrorist groups to keep their heads down,” a senior administration official said. But that is not a serious change. Syria is not cooperating.” (Jerusalem Post, July 20, 2003)


The 2002 edition of the State Department’s annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism reports; “The Syrian Government has 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 continues to shelter Ramadan Abdullah Shallah, who was indicted by the U.S. earlier this year, along with other Islamic Jihad terrorists, for his role in a terror cell that carried out numerous attacks, including the murders of American citizens Alisa Flatow and Shoshana Ben-Yishaii. (New York Sun, Feb. 25, 2003)


* Would-be suicide bombers from the West Bank and around the Arab world—including two men who planned a mega-attack on Israel’s tallest buildings, the Azrieli Towers in Tel Aviv—are being trained at camps in Syria and Lebanon,- the Jerusalem Report revealed (Dec. 2, 2002). After arriving in Syria, the two men “were vetted by a senior Syrian intelligence officer in Damascus, and taken to the headquarters of the PFLP-GC in the City, [and then] sent to the ‘September 17’ training camp outside Damascus … In the second hall of last year alone, Israeli authorities arrested in the territories over 20 non-Palestinians recruited by Hamas from lands as distant as Yemen and Sudan—mostly students recruited at university and then sent [to Syria] for the training.”



V.Syria Support for Hezbollah


The 2001 edition of the State Department’s annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism, reported; “Syria granted a variety of terrorist groups—including Hamas, the PFLP-GC, and the PIJ—basing privileges or refuge in areas of Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley under Syrian control … Syria did not act to stop Hizballah and Palestinian projectionist groups from carrying out anti-Israeli attacks. Damascus also served as the primary transit point for terrorist operatives traveling to Lebanon and for the resupply of weapons to Hizballah.”


The 2002 edition of Patterns of Global Terrorism, reported: “Syria also continued to permit Iranian resupply, via Damascus, of Hizballah in Lebanon. The report notes that Hezbollah operates in the southern suburbs of Beirut, the Bekaa Valley, and southern Lebanon—i.e., Syrian-occupied territory— and “receives financial, training, weapons, explosives, political, diplomatic, and organizational aid from Iran and diplomatic, political, and logistic support from Syria.”


Here is how the report describes Hezbollah: “Known or suspected to have been involved in numerous anti-US and anti-Israeli terrorist attacks, including the suicide truck bombings of the US Embassy and US Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1993 and the US Embassy annex in Beirut in September 1984. Three members of Hizballah, ‘Imad Mughniyah, Hasan Izz-al-Din, and Ali Atwa, are on the FBI’s list of 22 Most Wanted Terrorists for the hijacking in 1985 of TWA Flight 847 during which a US Navy diver was murdered. Elements of the group were responsible for the kidnapping and detention of US and other Westerners in Lebanon in the 1980s. Hizballah also attacked the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 And the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994. In fall 2000, it captured three Israeli soldiers in the Shab’a Farms and kidnapped an Israeli noncombatant whom it may have lured to Lebanon under false pretenses.”



VI. Hezbollah’s Links to Al Qaeda


* The U.S. bill of indictment against Bin Laden terrorists who went on trial in New York in 2001, stated that Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, “forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with representatives of the government of Iran, and its associated terrorist group Hizballah, for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States.” (pp.7-8)


* Ali Mohamed, a member of Bin Laden’s Ai Qaeda terrorist group who pleaded guilty to involvement in the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Africa, stated in his guilty plea (in U.S. district court on Oct 20, 2000) that “Hezbollah provided explosives training for Al Qaeda.” (Middle East Newsline, Oct. 23, 2000)


* U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) said after a briefing by senior law enforcement officials that those officials believe Al Qaeda is “very much involved with Hezbollah, Fatah, and other terrorist organizations.” (Associated Press, Sept. 13, 2001)