Syrian Rebels Dispute Reports About Al-Qaida Fighters in Their Ranks
Some rebel checkpoints in Syria are currently flying the black flag of al-Qaida. One of the flags is attached to a stick stuck into a tire weighed down with rocks in front of a checkpoint manned by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in Aleppo, the country’s largest city. The Islamic creed, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God,” is written in Arabic on the flag.
Even though it is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, the clean-shaven men at the checkpoint offer the foreign reporter something to drink. Some do not abide by the fasting requirement.
When asked whether they know they are flying the al-Qaida flag, one of the fighters responds: “Of course we know, but is it al-Qaida’s invention? It’s also the flag of the Prophet, and we fly it because we are Muslims and we are waging a holy war.”
Nothing illustrates the gray area between reality and perceptions of the war in Syria more concisely than this flag, which comes in various colors. Sometimes it has white lettering on a black background, and sometimes black lettering on a white background.
Western intelligence agencies report that the al-Qaida network, founded by Osama bin Laden, has “up to 1,500 combatants” participating in the Syrian civil war. In response to an inquiry from the German parliament, the BND, Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, stated that, in the first half of 2012, it had counted about 90 attacks “that can be attributed to organizations or jihadist groups affiliated with al-Qaida.” United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is apparently referring to similar analyses when he says that the presence of the terrorist organization in the region has created “very serious problems.”
However, these assessments are based on a small number of sources that are sometimes murky. According to the Washington Post, the CIA didn’t have a single agent in Syria by the end of July but, rather, “only a handful stationed at key border posts.” In contrast to the situation in Libya a year ago, the Americans must now rely on information from the intelligence agencies of Turkey and Jordan.