Did Assad “Islamize” the Syrian Uprising?

By William Van Wagenen

First, Assad tried to ingratiate himself with Western leaders by portraying the national uprising against him as a terrorist-led revolt. When that failed, he released jailed Islamic extremists who’d fought against U.S. troops in Iraq, then staged phony attacks on government facilities, which he blamed on terrorists. Far from fighting ISIS, Assad looked the other way when it set up a state-within-a-state with its capital in Raqqa, and left it to the U.S. and others to take the battle to the Islamic extremists.”- The Daily Beast

In January 2014 the state-owned newspaper of the United Arab Emirates, the National, published an article claiming that “Syrian intelligence agencies released Islamist militants from prison to deliberately subvert a peaceful uprising and ignite a violent rebellion,” citing an anonymous former Syrian intelligence official.

The idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deliberately “Islamized” the Syrian revolution in order to gain favor with the West is now commonly repeated in the Western press. Articles to this effect have appeared in Newsweek, The Daily Beast, Independent (UK), and the Wall Street Journal .

It is clear that the Syrian government released thousands of prisoners in June 2011 as part of a general amnesty. Many of these prisoners had jihadist ties, and have gone on to found and/or fight for the most powerful jihadist rebel groups in Syria, including the Nusra Front (al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria), Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, and the Islamic State (ISIS).

It is not clear however that Assad deliberately released these prisoners in order to militarize and Islamize an otherwise peaceful uprising calling for democracy, freedom, and respect for human rights. In this essay I will discuss several reasons why such a claim is not likely to be true.

The US is Responsible for the Islamization of the Syrian Uprising

First, this claim overlooks the clear evidence that the United States and its regional partners, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have themselves sought to both militarize and Islamize the Syrian uprising. They did this by “pumping in” a “huge amount of weapons” (in the words of former Secretary of State John Kerry, and US Special Envoy to Syria, Michael Ratner) to Syrian rebel groups, many of which advocate Salafi-Jihadism, the same ideology as al-Qaeda.

The United States and its regional allies, in particular Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey, have been supplying Syrian rebels with weapons and money since at least January 2012. The New York Times reported that American officials described how, “[f]rom offices at secret locations, American intelligence officers have helped the Arab governments shop for weapons, including a large procurement from Croatia, and have vetted rebel commanders and groups to determine who should receive the weapons as they arrive,” and that a “former American official said David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director until November, had been instrumental in helping to get this aviation network moving and had prodded various countries to work together on it,” noting also that the arms airlift to Syrian rebels that started in January 2012 “has grown to include more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes.” The NYT cited a former American official who noted that, “People hear the amounts flowing in, and it is huge.” Another DIA memo suggests that weapons were shipped to Syrian rebels from Libya after the fall of the Gaddafi regime there.

Zahran Alloush and Hassan Abboud are two prominent examples of prisoners released by Assad in the 2011 amnesty, who later went on to found Syrian rebel groups that embraced Salafi-Jihadism and received significant support from the US and its regional partners, in particular Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Both are mentioned by name in the National article cited above.

The Telegraph reported of Alloush and Abboud that, “Upon their release, they emerged as leaders of two groups of armed fighters that were to become the most powerful actors of all in the Syrian uprising. Hassan Abboud’s group Ahrar al-Sham won backing from Qatar. Zahran Alloush’s Jaish al-Islam is backed by Saudi Arabia, where Alloush’s father Abdullah is a practising cleric. Their Gulf backing made them a magnet for religiously inclined fighters from Syria’s Sunni countryside, which has always been far more conservative than the multi-sectarian, sometimes freewheeling big cities. As the more secular Free Syrian Army (originally staffed by defectors from the regime’s army) struggled to find money and weapons, Abboud and Alloush’s strength only grew.”

Zahran Alloush

Alloush clearly embraced Wahhabism, including the concept of takfir, leading him to refer to Shiites as “rejectionists” (rafidha), and “Zoroastrians” (majus) and thus not Muslims, therefore justifying their killing. He stated that his goal was to “cleanse” Syria of all Shiites and Allawites, and to “destroy their skulls” and make them “taste the worst torture in life before God makes [them] taste the worst torture on judgment day.”

Alloush has also declared his hostility to democracy. The pro-Saudi Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar reports that Alloush is “responsible for the disappearance of Ruzan Zeituna,” who is a well-known human rights lawyer and Assad critic, and that Alloush is “famous for his attacks on advocates of democracy,” and that he “embraces Salafi-Jihadi ideology and calls for an Islamic State, and is opposed to the democratic and republican systems.”

In November 2013, the Army of Islam joined with other major Syrian Jihadist factions to form the Islamic Front (al-Jabha al-Islamiya) and Alloush became its head military commander. In December 2013, the Washington Post quoted a US intelligence official as saying, “We don’t have a problem with the Islamic Front.”

Syria expert Joshua Landis noted in December 2013 that “Alloush has gone out of his way to keep good relations with Jabhat al-Nusra” and that Alloush has said, “his relationship with Nusra is one of brotherhood with only superficial ideological differences that can be settled with shari’a and discussions,” leading Landis to argue that “the ideological differences between the Front and al-Qaida are not deep.”

When Alloush was killed in a Russian airstrike in December 2015, the pro-Saudi Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, surmised that Russia intended to “direct a blow against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the assassination of one of its most prominent trusted persons in the Syrian opposition,” further making Saudi sponsorship for Alloush clear.

Upon Alloush’s death, the Nusra Front issued a statement memorializing Alloush, declaring that “The Sheikh Mujahid Muhammad Zahran Alloush has become a martyr- we testify and God is his judge – after two years of sacrifice and redemption, he fought on the edge of Damascus and struggled against the Nusayris (Alawites) and the rejectionists (Shia) until he met his Lord.”

Hassan Abboud

After his release from prison, Hassan Abboud became a leader of Ahrar Al-Sham (Freemen of Syria), a Syrian rebel group that calls for Jihad against Shia Muslims and other minorities in Syria, and that has worked closely with the Nusra Front. Notably, the two groups cooperated in a 2015 joint offensive that captured the provincial capital of Idlib in the north of Syria.

Ahrar Al-Sham’s founder, Abu Khalid al-Suri, had long standing links to Al-Qaeda, before he was killed in February 2014. According to reporting from the Long War Journal, the leader of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Ayman al-Zawahiri named al-Suri as his “representative” in Syria. Al-Suri attempted to mediate the dispute between the Nusra Front and ISIS at the time the two groups split. Al-Suri was previously a courier for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and Spanish officials allege that he received surveillance tapes of the World Trade Center from the operative who made the videos and delivered them to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Afghanistan.

In 2013, the US Treasury put Qatari academic, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Nuaymi on a terrorist sanction list because he “ordered the transfer of nearly $600,000 to al-Qa’ida via al-Qa’ida’s representative in Syria, Abu-Khalid al-Suri, and intended to transfer nearly $50,000 more,” and this after al-Nuaymi had used Qatar as a base to provide “material support and conveyed communications to al-Qa’ida and its affiliates in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen for more than a decade.”

In September 2014, much of the leadership of Ahrar al-Sham was killed in a large explosion. As a result, Hashim al Sheikh (also known as Abu Jaber), was elected as the new leader of the group, which role he filled for one year before stepping down. Abu Jaber had previously been a recruiter for al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), helping Jihadists to travel from Syria to Iraq to fight, and then was arrested by the Syrian government and imprisoned from 2005 to 2011. After Ahrar al-Sham was formed, he became the deputy to Abu Khalid Al-Suri (mentioned above) who was then Ahrar’s leader (emir) of the Aleppo area.

Ahrar al-Sham’s main backer is Qatar, apparently with US approval. Of Qatar’s role in supporting Syrian rebels, Foreign Policy reports that Qatar “sent planes to move an estimated 3,500 tons of military equipment in 2012 and 2013, reportedly with the CIA’s backing,” and that it is easy for US officials to work with Qatar, given that “‘Their interagency process has about three people in it,’ said one former U.S. official.”

Despite Ahrar Al-Sham’s ties to al-Qaeda, the group was allowed to publish an Op-ed in the
Washington Post in July 2015, while a sympathetic article about the group was published in the New York Times one month later. These articles seemed to be part of a US campaign to paint the group as “moderate” despite its Jihadist ideology, ties to Al-Qaeda, and praise of Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban in Afghanistan, describing him as the embodiment of “the true meanings of Jihad and sincerity” after his death. The NYT tried to justify Ahrar Al-Sham’s praise of Mullah Omar, by citing a cleric close to the group who contends that it “contained only an extremist minority.” A senior figure from Ahrar Al-Sham, Labib Nahhas, was then quietly allowed to visit the United States in May 2016.

Ahrar al-Sham also belonged to the Islamic Front alongside Alloush’s Jaish al-Islam. The Islamic Front was endorsed by US officials, as noted above.

Given this context, we must ask what impact Assad’s release of prisoners would have had in terms of militarizing and Islamizing the conflict, if not for the massive military and financial support these jihadists then received from the US and its allies. If Assad deserves blame for releasing jihadists from prison, would the US and its regional allies not also deserve to blame for arming and financing them?

Further, when the Western press accuses Assad of a plot to deliberately Islamize and militarize the Syrian revolution this implicitly assumes that the Western powers wanted the Syrian uprising to remain peaceful and retain the secular ideals of democracy and human rights as its objective. If this were the case, why would the US and its partners support Alloush and Abboud and the armed Salafi-Jihadi groups they headed? Why would Assad have to undertake a sinister plot to empower Jihadist elements among the Syrian rebel groups, when the US and its allies were intent on doing just that?

The US Efforts to Overthrow Assad Are Helped by Rise of Jihadist Rebel Groups

Second, if the Syrian government were to deliberately create an armed Islamic insurgency against itself, there would have been no evidence to cause Assad to believe that this would change the stance of the Western countries toward Syria, and cause them to suddenly support him. The United States has been committed to the overthrow of the Syrian government for years, for specific geo-political reasons, primarily in order to weaken US adversaries, namely Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia. If the Syrian uprising were to become militarized and Islamized, thereby threatening the Syrian government, this would in fact further US interests. Such a development, would be (and in fact was) welcomed by US planners.

The US desire to topple the Syrian government reaches back to at least 2001, when prominent neoconservatives in the US government threatened to invade not only Iraq, but also Syria and Iran. Former US General Wesley Clark discusses a conversation he had with a “senior general” a few weeks after 9/11 at the Pentagon, in which the general purportedly showed Clark a memo from then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office which advocated a strategy to “take out seven countries in five years,” which would start with Iraq and Syria and end with Iran.  That Syria and Iran were at that time potential US targets for regime-change was later confirmed by then Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith.

US planners were looking for concrete opportunities to destabilize the Syrian government as early as 2005, when the Bush Administration began to markedly increase funding for Syrian opposition groups, including some within Syria, leading to “persistent fears among U.S. diplomats that Syrian state security agents had uncovered the money trail from Washington,” according to the Washington Post.

Further, by 2006, US planners were seeking to exploit the fact that many Jihadists were traveling through Syria to join the fight against US forces in Iraq, and to turn these fighters against the Syrian government. A classified December 2006 cable written by William Roebuck, Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, highlights such opportunities:

We believe Bashar’s [Bashar-al-Assad, Syrian President] weaknesses are in how he chooses to react to looming issues, both perceived and real, such as . . . . the potential threat to the regime from the increasing presence of transiting Islamist extremists. This cable summarizes our assessment of these vulnerabilities and suggests that there may be actions, statements, and the signals that the USG can send that will improve the likelihood of such opportunities arising [Emphasis added].”

Similarly, in March 2007, Seymour Hersh wrote in the New Yorker that US planners had adopted a new “strategic direction” in an effort to use Sunni militant groups to weaken Iran, as a result of fears that the US invasion of Iraq had strengthened Iran (as pro-Iranian Iraqi politicians had come to dominate the new US-backed Iraqi government). Hersh quoted a Pentagon consultant who described how “the Saudi government, with Washington’s approval, would provide funds and logistical aid to weaken the government of President Bashir Assad, of Syria.” The plan involved using Prince Bandar to provide funds to Islamic “religious fundamentalists” to do the dirty work of US foreign policy that the US could not do directly.

According to the Pentagon consultant, Bandar and other Saudis assured the White House that “they will keep a very close eye on the religious fundamentalists. Their message to us was ‘We’ve created this movement, and we can control it.’ It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis [Jihadists] to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

Hersh reported as well that influential Lebanese Druze politician Walid Jumblatt met with then Vice President Dick Cheney in late 2006 to discuss the “possibility of undermining Assad,” and that Jumblatt advised Cheney that the Muslim Brotherhood would be the “ones to talk to” if the United States did try to move against Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood would later play a key role in the Syrian opposition starting in 2011.

Consequently, if an armed insurgency led by Islamic extremists were to threaten the Syrian government, this would in fact advance US interests. Such a view was articulated in a memo from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2012, which acknowledged that the creation of a “Salafist principality in Eastern Syria” would be “exactly what the supporting powers to the [Syrian] opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran).”

That the US welcomed the rise of Salafi-Jihadist groups in order to put pressure on the Syrian government is evidenced not only by US support for Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam as noted above, but also by US policy toward ISIS. Until roughly late 2014, it appeared that the US found the rise of ISIS as useful in its efforts to overthrow the Syrian Government. This was confirmed by then Secretary of State John Kerry. In a meeting with members of the Syrian opposition in September 2016, Kerry explained, that “the reason Russia came in is because ISIL [ISIS] was getting stronger. Daesh [ISIS] was threatening the possibility of going to Damascus. And that is why Russia came in. They didn’t want a Daesh government and they supported Assad. And we know this was growing. We were watching. We saw that Daesh was growing in strength. And we thought Assad was threatened. We thought we could manage that Assad might then negotiate. Instead of negotiating, he got Putin to support him. . . . but for us politically, we have a congress that will not authorize our use of force. Congress will not pass that. And so we’re trying to help the best way we can [emphasis added].”

It appears the US wanted Russia to choose between continuing to support Assad, and thereby take the risk that ISIS would take Damascus, on the one hand, and abandoning Assad and allowing pro-Western moderate rebels supported by the US to take power through negotiations, on the other. Russia opted for a third choice, however, namely direct military intervention to turn the tide against ISIS and other US and Gulf supported rebel groups. The possibility of direct Russian military intervention in Syria is something US planners apparently did not anticipate.

Assad Needs Support from Iran and Russia to Stay in Power, not from the US

Third, rather than seek to ingratiate himself with the US and other Western powers, which are already determined to overthrow his government, Assad has instead sought to ingratiate himself with Iran and Russia, two countries that actually have an interest in keeping in power. For Russia, these interests include maintaining access to one of its few warm water naval bases, in Tartous, which allows it to project military power in the Mediterranean, and preventing Qatar from building a pipeline through Syria that would allow it to supply natural gas to Europe, thus undermining the Russian monopoly there.

Russia also desires to prevent the growth of Salafi-Jihadi groups that could later carry out attacks in majority Muslim provinces within Russia. Given Moscow’s experience fighting Salafi-Jihadi rebels in Chechnya in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, and the history of terror attacks carried out by Chechen Islamic militants in Moscow itself, it is important for Russia to ensure that Salafi-Jihadi rebels do not succeed in taking over the Syrian government nor in furthering their regional influence. Putin himself was deeply involved in prosecuting the war in Chechnya, and even expressed his desire to castrate (perhaps jokingly, perhaps not) Chechen jihadists fighting against Russia at the time. This is all the more important given that many Chechens have traveled to Syria to fight for Salafi-Jihadi groups.

Perhaps more important than these geo-political considerations, is the desire of Russia to re-emerge as an important player on the world scene, in particular in the Middle East, a region of obviously crucial importance. Countering US and Gulf efforts to eliminate its one close Middle East ally is a way for Russia to re-assert itself, especially after Putin was duped by the West into allowing a UN Security Council resolution to be passed establishing a no fly zone in Libya in 2011, which the US then exploited to overthrow the Libyan government of Moammar Qaddafi, against Russian wishes.

Iran has an interest in keeping Assad in power to ensure its ability to supply weapons to Hezbollah, whose military capabilities deter future Israeli attacks targeting not only Lebanon, but also Iran itself. If Israel were to bomb Iran, the Iranians could respond by having Hezbollah launch rockets at northern Israel. Allowing Sunni Jihadi-Salafist groups to grow in Syria also poses a threat to the pro-Iranian government in Iraq, as the ISIS occupation of Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul has shown.

Assad then, is still in power not because he was able to bring the Western powers to his side, but because Russian and Iran want him in power, for their own geostrategic reasons.

Other Reasons Assad May Have Released Prisoners

Fourth, there are other possible reasons why Assad may have released Islamist/Jihadist prisoners as part of the amnesty in May 2011. For example, the release of political prisoners was a major demand of the opposition. The Washington Post reported at the time that, “the amnesty could affect about 10,000 people who Syrian activists say have been rounded up since the anti-government protests broke out in mid-March. The release of political prisoners has been a key demand of the opposition.” Assad may have therefore released these prisoners in an effort to placate the opposition, diffuse a volatile situation, and demonstrate his willingness to make limited concessions toward reform. It is difficult for Western journalists to imagine that Assad might do something genuinely good, but it must not be the case that Assad was acting out of ethical concerns when he approved releasing these prisoners. He may simply have felt that making limited concessions to the Syrian opposition would have helped resolve the crisis, thus keeping him in power. The desire to remain in power is a crucial factor in explaining any dictator’s decision making process. That Assad would agree to limited concessions in order to de-escalate protests seems much more plausible than deliberately starting an armed insurgency led by religious extremists, and deliberately allowing large swathes of the country to fall under their control (losing significant oil revenue in the process), just in the hope of winning support from countries already hostile to him remaining in power.

Further, the Syrian government may not have known who many of these prisoners were, or the threat they might pose upon release. The first months after the start of anti-government protests were chaotic, and it is possible these prisoners were released with no coherent or clear strategy in mind. There is historical precedent for such a view. In the course of the so-called War on Terror, the United States has similarly released many prisoners who were later involved in terrorist activity (for example from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and from Bucca prison in Iraq). In many cases US officials did not know who these prisoners were. The most notorious example of a Jihadist released from a US prison is of course the current leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. One leader of the group described his time in Bucca prison with al-Baghdadi as “an academy,” and crucial to the creation of the ISIS. Further, the founder of the Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, was detained at Bucca as well. He will be discussed in more detail below. Despite this, no mainstream Western media is willing to claim the United States deliberately created the notorious terror group.

Assad Accuses the West of Supporting Terrorism

Though it is true that Assad regularly claims that he is fighting “terrorists,” he does not do so to appeal to the West; rather he does so in the context of complaining that the Western powers and their Gulf allies are sponsoring the very “terrorists” he is fighting. In July 2014, Assad stated in a speech at the presidential palace that “Soon we will see that the Arab, regional and Western states that supported terrorism will pay a high price.” This is a common complaint of other Syrian government officials, as well as of Syrian civilians, when speaking with Western journalists. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Miqdad asked Patrick Coburn why the “US and Britain are against terrorists in one country, but favour them in another. . . They should tell their friends to refrain from supporting terrorism in Syria.” 1 A Syrian colonel explained to Robert Fisk that “I joined the army to fight Israel. And now I am fighting Israel’s tools. And the tools of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, so in this way we are fighting for Golan. This is a conspiracy and the West is helping the foreign terrorists who arrived in Syria, the same terrorists you are trying to kill in Mali.”2 Fisk also relates the comments of a Syrian friend who pointed out that “The Christians are protesting. The Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo has just made an appeal to the Western powers not to send weapons to the fundamentalists. The Syrian Catholic church in Aleppo has now been bombed.”3

Sources of the Claim are of Dubious Reliability

Finally, the sources of the accusations that the Assad regime had a specific plan to Islamize the Syrian uprising all are of dubious reliability. All such sources are close to the Syrian opposition, which have an incentive to discredit the Syrian government for the sake of Western audiences. Further, the claims of these sources were published initially in media outlets from the Gulf, whose government’s themselves wished to see the Syrian government fall, and who were among the supporters of the Jihadist rebels Assad supposedly sought to empower, thus further calling the credibility of their claims into question.

The National simply quotes a “former regime security official” and a “former military intelligence officer,” both of whom remained anonymous. Of the second, who claimed to have heard orders to deliberately release Jihadist prisoners in order to stoke violence, the National does acknowledge that “His claims could not be independently verified and he did not have documents supporting them.”l

Newsweek bases many of its claims on statements by Muhammad al-Saud, a member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, a Syria opposition group dedicated to the overthrow of the Syrian government, and which was founded in Qatar (whose role in funding Jihadist groups has been discussed above). Newsweek also relies on statements from Tarek Alghorani, a Syrian blogger who was imprisoned by the Syrian government for seven years, but who was released in the 2011 amnesty as well. The release of a secular opposition activist like Alghorani as part of the 2011 amnesty contradicts that claim that “many political prisoners and protestors backing the peaceful uprising were kept in prison, while others, including known Islamist radicals and violent offenders were quietly released.”

Was Nusra Front Leader Abu Mohammad al-Jolani in Sednaya?

Articles claiming that Assad deliberately released Islamist prisoners to militarize and radicalize the Syrian uprising consistently mention the “rumor” that the leader of the Nusra Front, Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, was also a prisoner at Sednaya. The National article discussed in this essay, which first made these claims about Assad in January 2014, mentions that “Abu Mohammad Al Jolani, is also rumoured to have been among those set free, although little is known about his true identity.” Newsweek repeats this claim, citing Muhammad al-Saud as saying “Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, (founder of the Jihadist group, Jabhat al-Jabhat al-Nusra) was rumored to be there. . . This is where the Syrian part of ISIS was born.”

This is an odd claim to make for several reasons. First, according to al-Jazeera, Jolani had left Syria and traveled to Iraq to fight US forces after the 2003 invasion, and only returned to Syria in August 2011, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (the head of ISIS) sent him to Syria to establish the Nusra Front. If al-Jazeera is correct, Jolani therefore could not have been in Sednaya prison by the time of the amnesty in May 2011.4

Al Jazeera is in a good position to know the outline of Jolani’s past, given that Jolani granted two major interviews to al-Jazeera, one in December 2013 (Jolani’s first), and the other in 2015.

Second, Jolani’s identity was still secret in January 2014 when the National article was published. As mentioned above, Jolani had given his first ever media interview a month before and he kept his face hidden to ensure his identity could not be determined. It would not be possible by January 2014 to identify that Jolani had been in Sednaya if his real identity was still unknown at that time.

Third, Syria analyst Aymenn al-Tamimi also doubts out that Jolani was detained in Sednaya. Al-Tamimi points to a description of the origins of the Nusra Front made by Nusra member Abu Abdullah al-Shami. Al-Shami makes no mention of the idea that Jolani was detained in Sednaya, noting that Jolani was sent to Iraq by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi with some cash and a handful of men in order to establish a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria.

That some Gulf and Western media sources attempt to claim that Jolani was in Sednaya, when no evidence of this exists, suggests a deliberate attempt by these media outlets to falsely attribute responsibility for the rise of al-Qaeda in Syria to Bashar al-Assad.


The argument that Assad deliberately released prisoners to create an armed insurgency of religious extremists against his own government is dubious. That such claims were uncritically recycled by the Western press suggests they are a product of US/Gulf propaganda, and meant to obscure the fact that in reality it was the US and its regional allies, in particular Qatar and Saudi Arabia who have Islamized the Syrian revolution.

1 Syria, Descent into the Abyss: An Unforgettable Anthology of Contemporary Reportage, by Kim Sengupta, Patick Cockburn, and Robert Fisk. Independent Print Limited, Kindle Edition 2014, page 319.

2 Ibid, page 401.

3 Ibid, page 219.

4 According to al-Jazeera, Jolani traveled to Iraq in 2003 and joined al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and quickly rose through the ranks of the organization and became a close companion of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. After US forces assassinated Zarqawi in 2006, Golani went to Lebanon to train fighters with the al-Qaeda affiliated Jund al-Sham group. Upon returning to Iraq, Jolani was then arrested and imprisoned by US forces at Camp Bucca. When US officials released Jolani from Bucca in 2008, Jolani once again joined AQI (by that time known as the Islamic State in Iraq, or ISI) and Jolani became head of operations in Mosul. Jolani then returned to Syria at the behest of al-Baghdadi as mentioned above.



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