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Paper No. 663                                                 17.04.2003


by B. Raman

If Saddam Hussein is gone, can President Assad of Syria be far behind in following him to the dustbin of history?

2. The orchestrated campaign against Syria mounted by the US is one more proof of what I have been saying for weeks, namely, that neutralisation of jihadi terrorism directed against Israel and the US and not oil is the primary motivating factor of US actions in West Asia.  Oil is a welcome and coveted bonus, but the urge to wipe out all regimes, which have been using or encouraging  terrorism against the US and Israel is the primary motive.  And the US has been following its objective with a doggedness and ruthlessness, that could be emulated with benefit by India, which has suffered and continues to suffer more from foreign terrorists than the USA and Israel put together.

3. The psychological and economic pressure, which the US has already mounted against Syria has two objectives---to rid Syria of the terrorist infrastructure in its territory, which used to be directed against Israel as well as the West till 1993 and which is since directed only against Israel; and to deprive the jihadi terrorists of yet another source of financial support.

4. Let us understand it correctly---apart from providing funds and political and moral support to all anti-Israel terrorist groups and sanctuary to decrepit terrorist leaders such as Abu Abbas of the Palestine Liberation Front arrested by US Special Forces in Baghdad on April 15, 2003, Saddam Hussein had taken care not to encourage any terrorist infrastructure in Iraqi territory.

5. In contrast, Syria has always been the most active hub of jihadi terrorism in West Asia, using its territory as well as that of Lebanon to create, sustain and protect terrorist groups. The groups of which Syria was the godfather were not confined to just those operating against Israel and killing dozens of innocent Israeli citizens.  There were many others operating in other countries with objectives unconnected to the Palestine issue.

6. You name any terrorist group, which spread death and mayhem in any part of the world since the early 1980s, they had a Syrian connection.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the International Front of Revolutionaries of Carlos, the jackal, now in prison in France, the Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction of the then West Germany, the Action Directe of France, the Red Army Faction of Japan, the Kurdish groups of Turkey etc 

7. The PFLP trained the Tamil terrorists of Sri Lanka in secret camps in Lebanese territory run with the connivance of the Syrian intelligence.  Till 1993, Carlos used to operate from Damascus, where he was living under the cover of a Lebanese businessman with the name Michel in a house and with a fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars given by the Syrian intelligence.  Johannes Weinrich alias Peter and Magdellana Kopp, the wife of Carlos, both from the West German Red Army Faction, were too living in Damascus.  Many of these terrorist-guests of Syria used to travel abroad with genuine travel documents given by the Syrian intelligence under different names. In some cases, Syria even gave them well-forged  diplomatic passports of other countries.

8. You analyse many of the major terrorist incidents of the 1980s and the early 1990s in West Europe.  The trail led back to some group or the other living as the guests of the Syrian intelligence in Damascus.  It gave them houses, money and arms and ammunition and helped them run their training camps in "liberated" Lebanese territory.  It did not want the training infrastructure to be located in its territory.  Many of these groups spawned by the Syrian intelligence did not even have an ostensible  political objective.  They were pure and simple contract killers, who were prepared to undertake any act of terrorism against any country for payment of huge sums. In the 1980s, the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) had approached Carlos to undertake for them a contract for killing Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, but he declined.

9. In 1993, under intense US pressure, the Syrian Government ordered its intelligence service to cut off contacts with non-Arab terrorist groups.  It asked Carlos and all other dregs of Western and Japanese terrorist groups to leave Syria.  Carlos took shelter in Khartoum, Sudan, where he was captured by the French intelligence in August,1994, with the co-operation of the Sudanese Government Kopp ran away to Latin America.  Peter fled to Yemen where he was captured by the German intelligence with local help.  And so on and so on.

10. But Syria has not cut off its links and support to Arab/Palestinian terrorist groups killing innocent Israelis.  The Syrian intelligence and security forces  have been largely responsible for the destruction of Lebanon, once the most prosperous country of West Asia, and for the conversion of its territory into a breeding ground of terrorists of various hues.

11. In its creation and use of terrorists against Israel and the West, the Syrian intelligence co-operated closely not only with the intelligence agencies of Iraq and Libya, but also with STASI, the intelligence agency of the then East Germany.  The records of the STASI and those relating to the trial of Carlos in France and of Peter in Germany should contain wealth of details on the role of Syria as a State-sponsor of international terrorism.

12. The only point that  can be made in favour of Syria is that there has been no evidence of its links with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda and International Islamic Front.  bin Laden himself kept away from the Syrian leadership just as he kept away from the Iraqi leadership since he viewed both of them as apostate because of their secular and socialist policies. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel has been alleging links between the Arab terrorist groups supported by Syria and Al Qaeda, but no acceptable evidence has been forthcoming so far.

13. If the US acts against Syrian State sponsorship of terrorism, India should not shed tears over it.  Even though the US action will mainly benefit Israel and not India, it could have, in the long run, a beneficial fall-out for other countries in Asia too which are facing the problem of jihadi terrorism, spawned in Pakistan.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter E-Mail: