Saturday, June 18, 2005

Capture of Jund al-Islam Terrorist Group Raises Questions

The arrest and killing of several Jihadists belonging to "Jund al-Sham" in the Daf al-Shawk district outside of Damascus has raised many questions in Syria.

A number of Syrian parliamentarians and moderate Islamist politicians have used the incident to demand the legalization of "moderate" Islamic parties. "If the state doesn't allow moderate Muslims to organize legally, the only Muslims emerge in the political arena will be radical Salafists," they argue, because radicals are willing to break the law. Dr. Muhammad Habash has been leading the charge on this issue. (The full article is included in the comment section two posts ago.)

أجمع عدة باحثين إسلاميين سوريين على " مطالبة السلطات بالسماح بقيام أحزاب إسلامية معتدلة " حتى من كان يرفض منهم سابقا " احتكار اسم الإسلام في حزب بعينه " معلنين " دق ناقوس الخطر للسلطة إذا لم تسمح للمعتدلين بممارسة نشاط سياسي حر , يعمل على نشر الفكر الإسلامي المعتدل لمواجهة التطرف , بدل الاكتفاء بالحل الأمني الذي يؤجل المشاكل فقط و لا يحلها نهائيا ".
Ibrahim Hamidi has a fantastic article in al-Hayat explaining the many reasons that Syrians are turning to Islam. They are accepting the principle that "Islam is the Solution." Having been ruled by secular regimes for 50 years, Syrians have only seen Muslims growing weaker. They don't have jobs, American and Israel are occupying more Arab land than ever, and the future is dark. Secular nationalism has failed. No alternatives are allowed in Syria. America and the West are seen as the enemies. What is left for the average Syrian but to turn toward Islam?

Hamidi describes how most of the Damascus book stores that once sold Russian books about communism and materialism have been converted into Islamic bookstores, especially the store across the street from the Russian Cultural Center!

He also gives the numbers on the growth of Islamic Institutes (600 new institutes for memorizing the Quran) and training centers. 72,751 families get assistance from Muslim charitable associations. See the following section of the article.
أسباب التأسلم

تتداخل مجموعة من الاسباب الداخلية والخارجية وراء هذا التحول الى الاسلامية والفشل في التحول الجذري الى العلمانية بمعناها الجوهري. فبعد القضاء على»الاخوان المسلمين» الذين قاموا بعمليات اغتيال مثقفين ومدنيين، بدأت الحكومة السورية سياسة تشجيع الاسلام المعتدل لخلق قاعدة شعبية واسعة ضمن المجتمع، فشجعت بناء المساجد التي وصل عددها حالياً الى نحو ثمانية آلاف في جميع انحاء البلاد. كما أوجدت ما يسمى «مدارس الأسد لتحفيظ القرآن» التي وصل عددها الى 120 معهداً في جميع المحافظات والمدن، اضافة الى معاهد عالية لتدريس علوم الدين بحيث بلغ عددها اكثر من 22 معهداً لا تستقطب طلاب الدراسات العليا من سورية وحسب، بل من اكثر من ستين دولة عربية وأجنبية.

ويتحدث النائب حبش عن وجود نحو 600 معهد لتحفيظ القرآن موجودة في شكل مستقل أو ملحقة بمساجد. كما ان هناك نحو 40 مدرسة تابعة للشيخة منيرة القبيسي (75 سنة( من أصل نحو 80 مدرسة تنتشر في جميع الاحياء الدمشقية، تدور في فلكها أكثر من 75 الف امرأة ومربية لآلاف الاسر. ويقول حبش: «القبيسيات ينشطن في اطار دعوة البنات الى التزام الشريعة الاسلامية. هن لا يمثلن تياراً، بل عبارة عن مدارس لتعليم الاطفال». يضاف الى ذلك ان كلية الشريعة الاسلامية تضم نحو 7603 طلاب (3337 طالبة) في السنوات الاربع من اصل 48 الف طالب في جامعة دمشق. وتخرج كلية الشريعة سنوياً اكثر من 650 طالباً. ويقول أحد المتابعين: «ان وظيفة التدريس الديني محصورة بالدولة التي لديها نحو مئة شخص «يقومون بدور التدريس الديني من دون اشتراط ان يكونوا بعثيين».

وفي موازاة الكلية الجامعية جرى تشجيع وجود مدارس تشريعية مناطقية ففي الجزيرة السورية شمال شرقي البلاد هناك «مدرسة الخزنوي» شقيق الشيخ معشوق، وفي حلب هناك مدارس الشيخ احمد حسون، وفي دمشق هناك «مجمع ابي النور» وحلقات الشيخ العلامة المنفتح محمد سعيد رمضان البوطي الذي يعطي دروساً اسبوعية في جامع «دينكز» وعلى شاشة التلفزيون الرسمي.

ونما في ظل هذه التجمعات «مجتمع اهلي» فمن اصل 584 جمعية هناك 290 جمعية خيرية. وقال الدكتور جمعة حجازي ان عدد الاسر المستفيدة من الجمعيات يبلغ نحو 72751 أسرة وان قيمة المساعدات المقدمة لها في العام 2003، بلغت اكثر من 842 مليون ليرة سورية (الدولار يساوي نحو 54 ليرة)، ذلك ان هذه الجمعيات تقدم مساعدات عبر تخصيص رواتب شهرية أو مساعدات علاجية أو غذائية الى الفقراء والمحتاجين. كما انها كانت تقدم خدمات عقائدية سواء عبر الدروس اليومية أو عبر خطبة يوم الجمعة.

في المدن والارياف، هناك منبران: المساجد التي يبلغ عددها نحو ثمانية آلاف وتشهد على الاقل نحو 416 الف درس اسبوعي في يوم الجمعة (عدا الدروس الاستثنائية) ويرتادها ملايين المصلين خصوصاً من الشباب، أو المراكز الثقافية البالغ عددها 79 معهداً (بينها 17 في دمشق وريفها و11 في حلب)، واربعة مسارح رسمية قدمت في العام ذاته 27 مسرحية لا يتجاوز عدد مرتاديها بضعة آلاف، ووسائل الاعلام الرسمية التي تشمل بيع نحو 60 الف نسخة من الصحف الرسمية الثلاث وخدمات الاذاعة والتلفزيون المتواضعة مهنياً والتي تقهقرت امام تقدم الفضائيات العربية.

One of my readers posted this article "Lebanese paper considers links between Syrian Jund al-Sham, militant groups" to the comment section on a previous post. (Thanks for adding these interesting articles to our continuing coverage. Readers should open the comment section, which is often more interesting and educational than my posts. I wish I had time to respond to everything.)

By BBC
Jun 16, 2005, 19:00 GMT

The following is the text of a report by Sha'ban Abbud in Damascus headlined "What is the connection between the 'Jund al-Sham' organizations? A dangerous band of Salafis that accuses everyone of being an unbeliever", published by Lebanese newspaper Al-Nahar website on 15 June

We the correspondents of Arab and foreign newspapers wish we were treated the way the correspondents of the Syrian Arab News Agency-SANA and the reporters of the Al-Thawrah newspaper are treated with regards to having access to information - even at a press conference - on the details of what happened in the Daf al-Shawk district. What took place was that the security organs waged an armed confrontation with a jihadist-Salafi-takfiri group that called itself "Jund al-Sham li al-Jihad wa al-Tawhid". We are making this point because it is our right to know and because we have several questions.

Is there some sort of connection between this group and another group with the same name in Lebanon and, specifically, in the Ayn al-Hulwah camp? Or is it a local group? Does this group have any external connections and with whom? What is the form of this connection? Is it with states or Islamic organizations or intelligence services that wish to harm Syria? How many members does this group have? Are there non-Syrians among them and where are they located, other than in Damascus? Are there more weapons than those that were photographed? What equipment was confiscated? Did this equipment include computers, fax machines, telephones or answer machines? Did any member of this group go to Iraq and wage "jihad" there? Why were the planned targets of the group - based on the confessions of some of them - civilian targets like the Palace of Justice and a "bus" as we read in the newspaper Al-Thawrah? Why were their targets not western embassies or other positions and centres? There are many other questions that arouse our curiosity and it does not seem that Al-Thawrah or SANA is about to give us the answers.

Such a situation drives a journalist to search for answers using his own methods and from various sources. This is what we did in order to better understand what had happened. Sources that monitor the affairs of the principal Islamic groups, especially the jihadist and takfiri groups, told us that it is unlikely that there is a connection between the "Jund al-Sham" in Lebanon and the "Jund al-Sham" in Syria. The first organization has almost disbanded after its emir, Usamah al-Shihabi, gave up his leadership in protest at some internal practices and also due to weak financial resources. The sources told us that the Emir Al-Shihabi himself sometimes resorted to physical labour to make a living. Furthermore, most of the members of this group are wanted by the Lebanese and other security services. Therefore, their presence and activities were mostly confined to the Ayn al-Hulwah camp in southern Lebanon. But some argue that the "Jund al-Sham" group in Lebanon has sent pamphlets to some Islamists in Syria to explain its stances on certain matters, especially on what the press has been reporting about it.

Regarding the emir of the group, who was killed by the Syrian authorities in the Daf al-Shawk neighbourhood in Damascus, the sources say that "Abu-Umar" is of "Druze" origin and that he opted for the takfiri-jihadist-Salafi ideology a few years ago. He was married twice. His first wife is from Lebanon and his second from Syria, and he divorced his second wife about three months ago. "Abu-Umar" was active in the village of Madaya in the Al-Zabadani region and owned a vegetable shop. He recently fell out with the "Al-Jama'ah al-Islamiyah" that he led in Madaya. The security authorities arrested about 17 members of this group about a year ago. After that, "Abu-Umar" separated from that group and met with another group that agreed on the idea of forming the "Jund al-Sham" organization in Syria. This group is a small one that does not exceed 10 members. The security authorities were watching them closely in connection with incidents that took place in Madaya and the Al-Zabadani area.

The sources asserted that this group "is a dangerous band of Salafis that accuse everyone and everything of being unbelievers and are bound by one ideology. However, they lack a clear vision and organizational experience. It became clear that they were planning something big but only on paper. What the official press has published about their plans and papers is correct." The sources said it is unlikely that this group has external relations, especially with a Salafi and takfiri group like Al-Qa'idah or another organization, because such incidents give the regime in Syria the opportunity to strike at all Islamic currents and to be more harsh against them.

Furthermore, Syria is not part of Al-Qa'idah's programme or that of other similar Islamic groups. They believe that the priority these days is Iraq, and that the arenas that have not been decisively in favour of the Muslims and that still are open are Afghanistan and Chechnya in addition to Iraq. Furthermore, they believe that their first enemy is the United States and Syria is coming under US pressure. So why would they attack Syria, even though the Syrian regime is a secular one, is not on good terms with the Islamists, and fought and dealt harsh blows to them. The sources said that there are no organized groups in Syria but that there are sympathizers. Although their eyes are on other arenas in Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya, their presence is extremely dangerous for they are indeed sleeper cells.

13 Comments:

At 6/18/2005 12:50:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Baathism and Arab Nationalism miserably failed. Syrian secular Nationalism was never given a chance. Arab Nationalist and the West trampled it.

 
At 6/18/2005 05:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But why turn to Islam to solve your economic problems?

Islamicists will scare off tourists and foreign investment. Iran's economy is nothing to emulate.

Syrian schools need to teach entrepreneurship and science, not memorizing the Koran.

Islamicism would be yet another wrong step. Heaven help Syria if they are so irrational as to take this route.

 
At 6/18/2005 06:32:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opposition leaders despair democracy has passed over Syria

BY HANNAH ALLAM

Knight Ridder Newspapers

DAMASCUS, Syria - (KRT) - Syrian opposition leaders are watching with a mixture of jealousy and despair as voters in other Arab countries cast ballots in elections hailed as the slow march of democracy throughout the Middle East.

Initially hopeful that reforms in Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and the Palestinian territories would lead to an opening in their own country, opposition figures say it now appears change will again pass them by.

The Baath Party regime led by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is adapting just enough to survive under intense international scrutiny, Syrian dissidents said in recent interviews. The change is not nearly enough to make a real difference in the lives of a population now in its fourth decade under authoritarian rule.

"The whole region is changing, and we're being left behind," lamented Bisan Bouni, a human rights advocate whose father, a member of the Communist Party, was imprisoned for most of her life. "We were optimistic at first, but not anymore. It's clear we're just going to be even more isolated."

Syria is deemed the last rogue Arab state, the refuge of anti-American militant groups and the recipient of mounting threats from the United States and Israel.

Under pressure, Syria withdrew its forces from Lebanon after nearly three decades of making decisions for Beirut from Damascus, and Assad's Baath Party this month held its first national congress since 2000. Many Syrians thrilled at the prospect that the government might end the country's perpetual state of emergency and offer citizenship to thousands of stateless Kurds, the largest minority.

Instead, the regime made a vague promise to allow rival political parties, as long as they weren't based on ethnicity or religion. That effectively ruled out a voice for Kurdish and Islamist groups, key components of the opposition.

"The problem in this country is the same problem that Iraq had: It's Article 8 of the constitution, which says the Baath Party must be the ruling party in Syria," said Mohammed Shahrour, a Syrian author and outspoken critic of the regime. "Touching that article is impossible. It's just a dream. The regime will survive until the end of this century. They're not afraid of the internal opposition."

Haitham Mullah, a vocal opposition figure who spent seven years in prison after calling for change, described the regime as performing a "striptease for the Americans," shedding just enough authoritarian rules to stave off a U.S.-led attack.

"We think the Americans are weakening despotic regimes, but we're not sure they're strengthening the opposition," said Michel Kilo, a Syrian dissident writer. "When we were asking for democracy, America was supporting a despot. Now that they're asking for democracy, they want it their way."

Riad al-Daoudi, a university dean and adviser to the Syrian foreign ministry, said he met with U.S. diplomats in London last year to hear their demands: close all offices of Palestinian militant groups, end relations with the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, improve security along the Iraqi border and take steps toward political reform.

But talks broke down, al-Daoudi said, because the American officials weren't offering anything in return.

"We are trying to avoid any face-to-face clashes with the United States, but to a certain extent," al-Daoudi said. "They've asked for reforms and we've introduced reforms. But we're talking about a structure that's been in place for 40 years. You can't just shake it up and expect change. You can't ask a government to dissolve itself."

Ahmed al Hajj Ali, a member of a government committee formed to introduce reforms to the Baath Party, said dismantling the party would only erode the secular net keeping Islamist extremists at bay. As proof, he pointed to a bullet wound on his cheek that he said came from a 1978 attack by members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Such opposition groups, he said, don't offer a better plan for Syria: "If they ruled, there would be catastrophe."

While there have been no major political reforms, Syrians say, the oppressive social climate has eased since the death in 2000 of the former President Hafez al-Assad, the current leader's father.

Syrian officials bristle at comparisons to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. After all, they argue, Syrians can surf the Internet, watch satellite television and criticize the regime in moderation.

Shoppers crowd marketplaces until midnight, foreign tourists stroll in ancient quarters and bottles of real Coca Cola can now be found stashed behind shelves of government-approved alternatives, such as Mandarin Cola.

There are no American fast-food joints, but Syrians munch chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers at restaurants in the capital. At one downtown cafe popular with Damascus teenagers, girls in headscarves puffed on hookah pipes as they watched NASCAR races on a big-screen TV. Outside, women in skintight jeans strutted past a billboard for a popular new play called "Excuse me, America."

"People think that Syria has tanks in the streets and intelligence agents lurking on every corner," said Fayez al-Sayegh, editor of the state-rum Al Thawra newspaper. "I wish they could see how it really is. We've never in our lives practiced terrorism."

The opposition views the easing of social restrictions as a poor substitute for democracy, an appeasement to keep Syrians distracted from the country's sluggish socialist economy, unemployment and crowded prisons.

"They're not really changing. They're just adding makeup to the same faces and silk gloves to the same old hands," said Anwar al-Bunni, a human rights attorney. "They're ready to give America whatever it wants to stay in power. They're just trying to buy time, to let the bad times pass in order to survive."

---

© 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

 
At 6/18/2005 07:33:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

If the United States is serious about reforming Syria, they can start by uniting and supporting Syrian reform groups. The U.S. real hidden agenda is a Petro-Israeli one. Weaken the Baathist Syrian government into submit ion and dissolution, weaken and refrain from supporting secular Sunni Moslem reformists, support the Kurds, Allow Islamist to be active (for war on terror pretext) and then use Kurds to cease Eastern Syria and control the Oil fields. Play the same scenario in Iran’s Ahwaz by supporting Arab minority using terror acts, directed media and intifada. U.S. Petro-Plan Is control of oil resources of Iran, Iraq and Syria. Israel’s plan is weaken Lebanon and Syria like Iraq, breakup the countries into weak cantons, so Israel can maintain economic and security dominance over the area. I wonder what excuse will they use to get to the Nile.

 
At 6/18/2005 09:24:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who slaughters, torture, loot, enslave our people? The dictators are 80 % of our problems so forget a little Sharon and co.These dictators give all bad or good pretexts to these powers to intervene in our internal affairs.
The Kurdish unrest is not related to foreigner powers.Why a Syrian Kurd doesn't have the right to learn his language in his homeland?Their lands are the richest in Syria whereas they constitute the poorest population in the country this is also true for the ahwazi arabs.
300 000 Syrian Kurds are deprived of the most elementary civil rights.
How can these minorities proclaim their faithfulness to the nation if they endure worse discriminations?.

 
At 6/18/2005 09:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Baathism and Arab Nationalism miserably failed.

Baathism or Syrian nationalism dont belong to our culture but are imported ideologies from the fascist and nazi pre-WW2 Europe.

 
At 6/18/2005 10:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Islamicists will scare off tourists and foreign investment. Iran's economy is nothing to emulate.

The syrian touristic policy of these last years is more harmful than benefical.In these few years Damascus has became a center of prostitution and this reputation attract eastern european ,morrocan,iranian,iraqi prostitutes in big quantities...
More dangerous,child prostitution was also reported.
rtsp://real.npr.na-central.speedera.net:80/real.npr.na-central/me/20050615_me_15.rm
http://www.npr.org/dmg/dmg.php?prgCode=ME&showDate=15-Jun-2005&segNum=15&NPRMediaPref=WM&getAd=1

 
At 6/18/2005 11:39:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Anonymous said...
Baathism and Arab Nationalism miserably failed.

Baathism or Syrian nationalism dont belong to our.......

Yeah Bourkas, bending over 5 time a day and visiting this Disneyland in Arabia is just as foreign to Syria. So if you are Syrian and care about not having imported ideas why not be Syrian all the way.

 
At 6/18/2005 11:51:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Anonymous said...
Who slaughters, torture, loot, enslave our people? The dictators are 80 % of our problems so forget a little Sharon and co.These dictators give all bad or good pretexts to these powers....

15 Million Syrians have no right whatsoever for 45 years. Join the club. Kurds You are not the only one lost land. Nasser and Baath ceased lands from million of Sunni Syrians. And who back this regime? The United States, Euro-peon, every Arab and Moslem country. As to the other facts: Why the United States supports only Kurdish and Shia minotities? because it is part of a strategy.

 
At 6/18/2005 11:55:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

Sharon and his Vice President are publicly begging Assad for invitation to Damascus. Why? Because they love peace...No, because it is part of a strategy.

 
At 6/19/2005 01:15:00 AM, Blogger Khalid Seirafi said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 6/19/2005 10:54:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are not the only one lost land?

I'm arab and i consider the kurds as partners and integral part of this country.
They played a very positive role in our history what Syria would be without leaders as Salahadin,Yousef Azmeh and Brahim Hanano ?
Yes 17 millions syrians suffer from the corruption, thievery, and barbarity perpetuated by the
Baath Party.

 
At 6/20/2005 01:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just some historic facts:
How come some Kurds do not have citizenship while most of them do??
The answer is that in the 1930's there was a Kurdish uprising against Ataturk in Turkey. Upon failure, many Kurds moved to Syria and settled here as refugees. In 1962, president Qudsi ordered a sensus and excluded these Kurds from the sensus since they were not part of French Mandated Syria when the French mandate came about.
In reality they are just like the Palestinians and should be treated the same way.
I beleive (and I am a Sunni Arab 100% Syrian) that the Palestinians should be getting the citizenship along with the Kurds. Kurds should not be the only ones getting this preferential treatment.

 

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