Christoph Germann

Newsbud Exclusive- Merkel’s Tenuous Pact with America in the Age of Trump.

Berlin Foreign Policy Forum 2017 – A Turning Point in US-German Relations?

Upon taking office, German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) decided to make “a pact with America the cornerstone of her foreign policy,” reorienting Germany away from Russia and back towards the United States.[1]

This pact has become increasingly tenuous after the election of Donald Trump as this year’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum demonstrated.

The Berlin Foreign Policy Forum is an annual event hosted by the Körber Foundation in cooperation with Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, bringing together politicians, government representatives, foreign policy experts and journalists to discuss German foreign policy and Germany’s role in the world.[2]

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) opened this year’s forum with an unprecedented attack on Merkel’s pact with America, telling the audience: “Germany cannot afford to wait for decisions from Washington, or to merely react to them. We must lay out our own position and make clear to our allies where the limits of our solidarity are reached.”[3]

Gabriel’s speech dovetailed with a survey published by the Körber Foundation at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, according to which 56 percent of Germans consider relations with Washington to be somewhat bad or very bad.[4]

Relations with the United States under Trump are seen as a bigger foreign policy challenge than relations with Erdogan’s Turkey or Putin’s Russia, ranking second on the list of foreign policy concerns behind refugees.[5]

Moreover, the survey found that a striking 88 percent of Germans would give a defense partnership with European states priority over the partnership with the United States.[6]

Gabriel tried to tap into these sentiments with his speech, calling for a new European foreign policy that recognizes the differences between U.S. and European interests.[7]

Germany and its European partners should be more assertive in setting foreign policy according to their own interests rather than to those of the United States, Gabriel argued.

The German Foreign Minister gave three examples of U.S. actions that run against European interests. [READ MORE]

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Newsbud Exclusive- Germany Protects Gülen Movement from Erdogan

BND Warns Turkey Not to Challenge NATO Line

German-Turkish relations keep plummeting as Berlin and Ankara argue over the threat posed by U.S.-based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen and his movement, but there is more to the latest dispute than meets the eye.

In recent weeks, tensions have been running high between Germany and Turkey due to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s referendum campaign. Disagreements over the Gülen movement are now adding fuel to the fire.

On March 27, as Turkish citizens living in Germany began casting their ballots in Turkey’s constitutional referendum, German media dropped a bombshell.

The joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) handed a list of hundreds of suspected Gülen supporters and Gülen-linked organizations in Germany to the Bundesnachrichtendient (BND).

MIT Undersecretary Hakan Fikan, a close confidant of Turkish President Erdogan, reportedly gave the list to BND President Bruno Kahl on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in February.

The MIT target list included the names of more than 300 people and about 200 associations, schools and other institutions supposedly linked to the Gülen movement. Among the information provided to the BND were registered addresses, mobile and landline numbers as well as secretly taken photos, for example by surveillance cameras, suggesting that Turkish intelligence had been spying on suspected Gülenists in Germany.

Instead of supporting the efforts of Turkey’s MIT, BND chief Kahl conveyed the files to the Federal Government and the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence agency tasked with counterintelligence.

Authorities across the country were alerted to the Turkish spying and several federal states began warning the targets on the list that they were being watched by Turkish intelligence.[1]

After the joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR broke the story, German media heaped scorn and derision on Turkey’s MIT.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung mocked Turkish spy chief Fidan for thinking that the Bundesnachrichtendienst would help the Turkish government in pursuing suspected Gülen supporters on German territory, calling it a “fatal mistake.”[2]

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, on the other hand, found it hard to believe that the Turks were “naive” and didn’t know any better when they handed over the list. He suggested that it may have been a deliberate provocation.[3]

This view is shared by some members of the German security apparatus. Others have speculated that Turkey’s list might also include a few Turkish intelligence agents who could unmask employees of German intelligence agencies if they showed up to warn the targets. Therefore, most State Offices for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV) handed the investigations to the police.[4]

German Interior Minister de Maizière said he regretted that the existence of the MIT target list was made public while the investigation into Turkish spying was still at an early stage. He would have preferred to learn more about Turkey’s espionage activities on German soil and inform those at risk before going public with the list.

De Maizière blamed the release of the information on the lack of concrete agreements between the federal states on how to handle the issue.[5]

The timing of the release is noteworthy given that the joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR broke the story on the same day as Turkish citizens in Germany and five other European countries started to vote in Turkey’s constitutional referendum.[6]

It is important to note that the joint investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR has become the main purveyor of government-sanctioned leaks in Germany.

As Left Party MP Sevim Dagdelen pointed out, it seems probable that the Bundesnachrichtendienst itself leaked the information to the media. She regarded the BND move as a warning to Turkish intelligence, reminding the Turks to keep their espionage activities in line with NATO interests.

Dagdelen noted that German intelligence didn’t mind working through lists of alleged PKK supporters, but Ankara’s pursuit of suspected Gülenists was not in the interest of Berlin and Washington.[7]

Even before reports about the MIT target list emerged, the head of Germany’s BND felt the need to publicly defend the Gülen movement.

In an exclusive interview with Der Spiegel, BND President Bruno Kahl said he did not think that the Gülen movement was behind the failed coup.

“Turkey has tried to convince us on a number of different levels. But they haven't yet been successful,” Kahl stressed.

Furthermore, the BND head objected to Ankara’s characterization of the Gülen movement. Asked whether it was an extremist-Islamist movement or perhaps even a terrorist group, Kahl said it was “a civilian association for religious and secular education.” He also refused to call it a sect, merely acknowledging that “the Gülen movement wasn't a meaningless minority.”[8]

The Turkish government was furious about Kahl’s interview and immediately summoned the German chargé d’affaires.[9]

Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag said Kahl remarks were “a mockery of Turkish people’s intelligence.” He accused the German spy chief of “lying to the German people, the Turkish people, and the whole world.”[10]

Defense Minister Fikri Isik went one step further, claiming that “certain circles” in Europe were unhappy with the outcome of the attempted coup.

“If the German intelligence chief says, ‘We are not convinced that FETO is behind the coup attempt,’ then he must be either blind, deaf, or he needs to hide the plotters as they failed in what they wished to happen,” Isik railed. He added: “This then raises a question: Did you cooperate with them? What was your position in this coup plot exactly?”[11]

Kahl’s remarks do indeed raise some questions.

The head of Germany’s foreign intelligence agency should know that “the Gulen movement goes much beyond the schools, charities, and inter-faith activities with which it presents itself to the world: it also has a dark underbelly engaged in covert activities such as evidence fabrication, wiretapping, disinformation, blackmail, and judicial manipulation.”[12]

Moreover, it is not exactly a secret that U.S.-based preacher Fethullah Gülen and his followers have been working closely with the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[13] Former high-ranking Turkish officials freely admit this.[14]

As for Gülen’s alleged involvement in the July 2016 coup attempt, Turkey’s Chief of Staff Hulusi Akar testified after his release that one of the senior coup plotters offered to put him in touch with their “opinion leader,” Fethullah Gülen, in an effort to secure his cooperation.[15]

“I am the biggest proof. They wanted me to talk to Gülen,” Akar reportedly told his American counterpart Joseph Dunford when the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman visited Turkey around two weeks after the failed coup attempt.[16]

According to a Western diplomat who has followed Akar throughout his career, “Akar has been, since he took the position, a guy defined by integrity.”[17]

Yet, the head of Germany’s Bundesnachrichtendienst indirectly accused Turkey’s highest-ranking military officer of being a liar, while doing his best to defend the Gülen movement, designated as a terrorist organization by NATO ally Turkey.

A few days later, Germany’s Federal Prosecutor’s Office (GBA) launched an investigation “against an unnamed entity on suspicion of espionage” after information about the MIT target list was leaked to the media. A spokesman for the GBA declined to confirm German media reports that the entity was Turkey’s MIT, but there is little room for speculation.[18]

It was Germany’s second investigation into suspected spying by NATO ally Turkey.

Earlier this year, the GBA launched an investigation into possible spying by Turkish imams working for the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB), an arm of the Turkish government tied to the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet).[19]

On March 31, only four days after the bombshell report on Turkey’s MIT, the investigative group of Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR announced a third GBA investigation.

According to the investigative group, German prosecutors are investigating Halife Keskin, the head of Diyanet’s foreign affairs department and one of the agency’s highest-ranking officials. Keskin allegedly played a key role in Diyanet’s global surveillance effort, which included DITIB imams spying on Gülen supporters in Germany.[20]

American espionage activities on German soil have long been tolerated by the German authorities but Turkish espionage activities are reportedly “unacceptable,” especially if they target the wrong group.

The Gülen movement clearly enjoys the protection of the German government.

As Turkish President Erdogan tries to further consolidate his power in Turkey, it becomes apparent that he can’t expect any help from his NATO partners in fighting the “Gülenist threat.”

With the April 16 constitutional referendum approaching, Erdogan just received another reminder that challenging the U.S.-NATO line on important issues such as Gülen or Russia is dangerous.

# # # #

Christoph Germann, Newsbud Author & Analyst, is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] Georg Mascolo, “Türkischer Geheimdienst: Gülen-Anhänger in Deutschland bespitzelt,” Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR), 27 March 2017: http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/guelen-spionage-deutschland-101.html.

[2] Georg Mascolo, Reiko Pinkert and Ronen Steinke, “Türkischer Top-Spion beging großen Irrtum,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 28 March 2017: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/tuerken-in-deutschland-der-folgenschwere-irrtum-des-tuerkischen-top-spions-1.3438536.

[3] “Türkischer Geheimdienst: MIT-Liste: De Maizière vermutet Provokation,” ZDF heute, 30 March 2017: http://www.heute.de/de-maiziere-im-zdf-morgenmagazn-mit-liste-als-gezielte-provokation-fuer-deutsch-tuerkisches-verhaeltnis-46869630.html.

[4] Jörg Diehl, Martin Knobbe, Jörg Schindler and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt, “Michelle Müntefering: Auch deutsche Politikerinnen auf türkischer Spionageliste,” Spiegel Online, 29 March 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/michelle-muentefering-auch-deutsche-politikerinnen-auf-tuerkischer-spionageliste-a-1141025.html.

[5] Ibid., ZDF heute.

[6] “Voting starts in Europe for Turkish referendum,” BBC, 27 March 2017: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39405210.

[7] Sevim Dagdelen, “Zurück auf NATO-Weg,” junge Welt, 29 March 2017: https://www.jungewelt.de/artikel/308021.zur%C3%BCck-auf-nato-weg.html.

[8] Martin Knobbe, Fidelius Schmid and Alfred Weinzierl, “German Intelligence Chief Bruno Kahl Interview,” Spiegel Online, 20 March 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/german-intelligence-chief-bruno-kahl-interview-a-1139602.html.

[9] Sultan Cogalan, “Turkey summons German envoy over spy chief's comments,” Anadolu Agency, 21 March 2017: http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/turkey-summons-german-envoy-over-spy-chiefs-comments/776645.

[10] “Germany is lying to us,’ Turkish justice minister says,” Hürriyet Daily News, 21 March 2017: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/germany-is-lying-to-us-turkish-justice-minister-says.aspx?pageID=238&nID=111056&NewsCatID=510.

[11] “Refusal to see Gulen's role incriminates Germany: Isik,” Anadolu Agency, 19 March 2017: http://aa.com.tr/en/europe/refusal-to-see-gulens-role-incriminates-germany-isik/775044.

[12] Dani Rodrik, “Is Fethullah Gülen behind Turkey's coup? (with update),” Dani Rodrik’s weblog, 23 July 2016: http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2016/07/is-fethullah-g%C3%BClen-behind-turkeys-coup.html.

[13] Sibel Edmonds, “Turkish Intel Chief Exposes CIA Operations via Islamic Group in Central Asia,” Boiling Frogs Post/Newsbud, 6 January 2011: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2011/01/06/turkish-intel-chief-exposes-cia-operations-via-islamic-group-in-central-asia/.

[14] Dexter Filkins, “Turkey’s Thirty-Year Coup,” The New Yorker, 17 October 2016: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/17/turkeys-thirty-year-coup.

[15] Ibid., Rodrik.

[16] Abdulkadir Selvi, “Is Gülen very close to CIA?,” Hürriyet Daily News, 23 March 2017: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/is-gulen-very-close-to-cia-.aspx?PageID=238&NID=111136&NewsCatID=581.

[17] Ibid., Filkins.

[18] Madeline Chambers and Andrea Shalal, “Germany opens new probe into suspected Turkish spying,” Reuters, 28 March 2017: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-referendum-germany-espionage-idUSKBN16Z2FQ.

[19] Andrea Shalal, “Germany won't tolerate Turkish spying, says spy chief,” Reuters, 19 January 2017: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-turkey-spying-idUSKBN1532UP.

[20] “Report: German authorities investigate high Turkish religious official,” Deutsche Welle, 1 April 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/report-german-authorities-investigate-high-turkish-religious-official/a-38248062.

Merkel’s Message to US: NATO is not ‘Obsolete’ – and neither is the Russian Boogeyman

CDU Promises Vast Expansion of Military Spending, Putting Election at Risk

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen used the 53rd Munich Security Conference to send a message to the new U.S. administration: NATO is not “obsolete” – and neither is the Russian boogeyman!

“There can be no policy of equidistance between allies on one side and those who on the other question our borders, our values and the principles of international law,” Defense Minister von der Leyen said to applause at the Munich Security Conference.

Without mentioning U.S. President Donald Trump by name, von der Leyen voiced harsh criticism of Trump’s attitudes toward Russia. “We must pursue finding a reliable coexistence with Russia together instead of going over our partners’ heads in a bilateral relationship,” von der Leyen emphasized.[1]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the same line, calling for more multilateral cooperation and touting the importance of NATO in dealing with Russia. Merkel cited Russia’s support of separatists in Ukraine and the “annexation” of Crimea as reasons for reinvigorating NATO and portrayed the military build-up in Eastern Europe as a necessary defensive move.[2]

Moreover, the German Chancellor reassured U.S. Vice President Mike Pence that Germany was committed to reaching NATO’s defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP by 2024. “We will do everything we can in order to fulfil this commitment,” Merkel said, stressing that it will take some time to get to the 2 percent target.[3]

This year, Germany’s military spending is set to increase by 8 percent to 37 billion euros, which translates into 1.2 percent of GDP.

In order to meet the NATO guideline, Germany would need to add some 25 billion euros to its military budget over the next few years, as German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel pointed out in Munich. Gabriel called NATO’s 2 percent metric into question, noting that Greece met the goal while struggling to pay its pensions.[4]

Latvia’s former Defense Minister Artis Pabriks challenged the German Vice Chancellor, saying: “It sounds a little bit bitter if the support [of] my border and the security of my country is in danger because some … nations will not pay their share.”

Gabriel cautioned Germany’s allies against opening a debate over expenditures and stressed that Germany’s contribution to European security also included paying “30 to 40 billion euros per year to take in refugees who came in here largely because military interventions in the past have gone seriously wrong.”[5]

The comments by the outgoing chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) underline that Merkel and her Christian Democrats take high risks when they promise to expand the military budget.

According to a December 2016 poll, two-thirds of Germans oppose spending more on defense.[6] But this didn’t stop Merkel and other prominent members of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from pledging a 25 billion euro increase in defense spending over the next few years.

The SPD, which has closed the gap on Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc after nominating Martin Schulz as chancellor candidate, could exploit this issue in the upcoming federal election.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, a Christian Democrat and die-hard Atlanticist, lamented after the Munich Security Conference that the SPD was “still a bit hesitant” whereas Chancellor Merkel and Defense Minister von der Leyen had agreed with him to keep expanding the military budget in order to reach NATO’s 2 percent target by 2024.[7]

All three CDU leaders – Merkel, von der Leyen and Schäuble – are known for putting Atlanticism over Germany’s national interests. It hasn’t hurt their careers so far, but it may hurt their chances of winning the election if the Social Democrats open a debate over military spending. Recent polls show that the CDU/CSU bloc can’t afford to lose more ground to the SPD.[8]

Merkel was planning to use the Russian boogeyman during the election campaign in order to divert attention from her disastrous track record.[9] The only problem is that Germany’s foreign and domestic intelligence agencies haven’t been able to find any evidence of Russian meddling in German politics.[10]

Last year, Merkel ordered an investigation into potential Russian interference after Russian officials, journalists and members of Germany’s Russian community made the mistake of believing a 13-year-old Russian-German girl who claimed that she had been abducted and raped by migrants. Suspecting that Russian state actors were behind the “Lisa protests” in Germany, German authorities spent almost one year searching for evidence of Russia’s “disinformation campaign.”

Parts of the Russia investigation were supposed to be published, but after seeing the results of the investigation, the government decided to keep the 50-page intelligence report under wraps.

Not only were Germany’s intelligence agencies unable to back up reports that the “Lisa protests” were orchestrated by Russian state actors, they were unable to find any direct evidence of Russia’s alleged disinformation campaign.

In order to save face, the intelligence agents offered two different conclusions: Either Russia is not organizing a disinformation campaign against Germany or – the version preferred by German spies – the Russians are hiding their tracks well. Therefore, the intelligence agencies recommended “further investigative efforts.”[11] The German Chancellery agreed and told them to investigate further.[12]

Chancellor Merkel needs the Russian boogeyman now more than ever as she tries to convince German voters to spend unbelievable amounts of taxpayer money on the military in order to prop up a Cold War military alliance whose purpose it was “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

If the Social Democrats decide to make military spending a campaign issue, Merkel could get into serious trouble.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] Michael Birnbaum and Dan Lamothe, “German defense chief hits Trump attitudes on torture, Russia and Muslims,” The Washington Post, 17 February 2017: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/german-defense-chief-hits-trump-attitudes-on-torture-russia-and-muslims/2017/02/17/7f76e56c-f525-11e6-8873-a962f11835fb_story.html?utm_term=.2a037deaaebf.

[2] Angela Merkel, Speech at the 53rd Munich Security Conference, 18 February 2017: https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/video/statement-by-angela-merkel/.

[3] Janosch Delcker, “Germany will take own time to boost defense, Merkel tells Pence,” Politico, 18 February 2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/germany-will-take-own-time-to-boost-defense-merkel-tells-pence/.

[4] Sigmar Gabriel, Speech at the 53rd Munich Security Conference, 18 February 2017: https://www.securityconference.de/mediathek/munich-security-conference-2017/video/the-franco-german-view-sigmar-gabriel-and-jean-marc-ayrault/.

[5] Janosch Delcker, “Trump’s demand upsets German election,” Politico, 19 February 2017: http://www.politico.eu/article/trump-nato-germany-munich-news-military-spending-merkel-armed-forces/.

[6] “Umfrage - Nur ein Drittel der Deutschen für höhere Militärausgaben,” Reuters, 15 December 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-aussenpolitik-umfrage-idDEKBN1441VR.

[7] “Schäuble: Haushalts-Spielraum für mehr Verteidigung ist da,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 19 February 2017: http://www.stern.de/politik/deutschland/reaktion-auf-us-forderungen-schaeuble--haushalts-spielraum-fuer-mehr-verteidigung-ist-da-7334264.html.

[8] “Poll shows 'reds and greens' could oust Merkel's conservatives,” Deutsche Welle, 19 February 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/poll-shows-reds-and-greens-could-oust-merkels-conservatives/a-37621153.

[9] Christoph Germann, “Newsbud Exclusive- The Disastrous Track Record of the New ‘Leader of the Free World’,” Newsbud, 27 November 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/11/27/newsbud-exclusive-the-disastrous-track-record-of-the-new-leader-of-the-free-world/.

[10] Georg Mascolo, “Bericht der Geheimdienste: Keine “Smoking Gun” aus Russland,” NDR, 6 February 2017: https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/deutsche-geheimdienste-russland-101.html.

[11] Ben Knight, “German intelligence 'finds no evidence of Putin disinformation campaign',” Deutsche Welle, 7 February 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/german-intelligence-finds-no-evidence-of-putin-disinformation-campaign/a-37448072.

[12] Georg Mascolo and Nicolas Richter, “BND: Keine Beweise für Desinformations-Kampagne Putins,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, 6 February 2017: http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/geheimdienste-bnd-keine-beweise-fuer-desinformations-kampagne-putins-1.3365839.

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Newsbud Exclusive- The Anis Amri Timeline: How German Authorities Allowed a Well-Known Terrorist Suspect to Strike Berlin

Berlin Christmas Market Attack Raises Questions About Security Failures 

As more details emerge about last month’s Berlin Christmas market attack, German authorities are struggling to explain why they failed to prevent the attack despite knowing full well that Anis Amri was a ticking time bomb.

“The attack was carried out by a man whom security officials across Germany were very well aware of,” North Rhine-Westphalia’s Interior Minister Ralf Jäger acknowledged at a January 5 meeting of the state’s parliamentary interior committee in Düsseldorf.[1]

Jäger pointed out that top federal and regional security officials discussed the potential danger posed by Amri seven times at the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center (GTAZ) in Berlin in the months before the attack.[2]

Counter-terrorism experts rated the 24-year-old Tunisian national a “five” on the eight-point scale used to assess an individual's potential danger, with “one” representing the highest threat. This proved to be a fatal mistake.

Nevertheless, the Interior Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia defended the actions taken – or not taken – by security authorities. Jäger emphasized that “in a constitutional state, we can't simply lock up threats as a precautionary measure.”

Dieter Schürmann, the head of the State Criminal Police Office (LKA) in North Rhine-Westphalia, took the same line, saying the authorities’ findings wouldn’t stand up in court and they had “exhausted all legal powers to the limit to ward off potential dangers.”

Schürmann revealed that German authorities knew of 14 different identities used by Amri to register himself across different states and he laid out a detailed timeline of Amri’s activities in Germany, underlining the authorities’ extensive knowledge about the Berlin killer.[3]

Newsbud translated Schürmann’s Amri timeline and complemented it with additional information to illustrate why it is hard to believe that German authorities “exhausted all legal powers to the limit to ward off potential dangers” and that they didn’t see the Berlin Christmas market attack coming.

Additional information is marked with an asterisk (*).

6 July 2015:

Amri enters Germany illegally and is picked up by police in Freiburg.

22 July 2015:

Amri receives a “Certificate of Registration as an Asylum-Seeker” (BüMA) under the name “Anis Amir” in Karlsruhe.

28 July 2015:

Amri receives another BüMA under the “Mohammad Hassan” in Berlin.

*End of July 2015:

Amri is registered at the Berlin State Office for Health and Social Affairs (Lageso) under the name “Ahmad Zaghoul.” He allegedly punches a Lageso security guard in the face. The case against him is later dropped because “Zaghoul” has disappeared.[4]

3 August 2015:

Amri tells the Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) in Dortmund that his name is “Mohamed Hassa.”

18 August 2015:

During this time, Amri is assigned to the central accommodation facilities of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Hermer and Rüthen as well as the municipal accommodation facility of the town of Emmerich.

*Autumn 2015:

The federal prosecutor’s office launches an investigation into the network of Ahmad Abdulaziz Abdullah A., better known as Abu Walaa, an Iraqi-born hate preacher based in the town of Hildesheim (Lower Saxony). Abu Walaa and his associates are suspected of recruiting people for the Islamic State group and organizing trips to Syria.[5]

*14 October 2015:

The imam of the Fussilet mosque in Berlin, Dagestani-born Gadzhimurad K. alias Murad Atayev, is arrested on suspicion of recruiting people for the Islamic State group and supplying equipment to Islamist groups in Syria. Two of his close Fussilet associates, Ismet D. and Emin F., were arrested on similar charges several months earlier.[6] Gadzhimurad K. described himself as “an information aggregator for the Islamic State” in an interview with Meduza in May 2015. German authorities consider the Fussilet mosque to be a recruitment point and fundraising center for Islamic State fighters.[7]

27 October 2015:

The immigration office of the administrative district of Kleve (North Rhine-Westphalia) informs police that a roommate of “Mohamed Hassa” in Emmerich saw pictures on “Hassa’s” cell phone showing people dressed in black who were armed with automatic rifles and posing with hand grenades.

28 October 2015:

Police launch a so-called “Prüffall Islamismus.” Krefeld police visit the tipster who confirms his statement.

28 October 2015:

Amri gets another BüMA under the name “Ahmed Almasri” at the ZAB Dortmund, assigning him to the accommodation facility Neuss and from there to the municipality of Bestwig.

29 October 2015:

The Foreigners’ Registration Office in Münster issues a BüMA for “Ahmed Almasri,” assigning Amri to the accommodation facility Dinslaken. Afterwards, Amri is assigned to the city of Oberhausen. “Ahmed Almasri” is registered there until 18 May 2016.

*November 2015:

Amri tells an informant of the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA within the Abu Walaa network that he wants to “do something in Germany” and that he can provide a Kalashnikov for an attack.[8]

*Security authorities have at least two informants in the Abu Walaa network.[9]

17 November 2015:

North Rhine-Westphalia security authorities learn that a certain “Anis” wants to carry out attacks with “military weapons” in Germany. Authorities don’t make a connection to the cell phone video.

*According to files shown on ARD-Brennpunkt on December 23, the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA immediately sends its findings to the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA). The files suggest that security authorities already know the real identity of “Anis” at this point and that Amri is placed under surveillance.[10]

December 2015:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA informs all security authorities throughout Germany as well as the federal prosecutor’s office about the potential danger posed by “Anis” who is allegedly not identified at this point.

Mid-December 2015:

Amri registers himself under another name as an asylum-seeker in Berlin and is being referred to Hamburg.

16 December 2015:

Meeting at the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) in Berlin. The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA presents its findings about “Anis” and his previous stay in Italy. The BKA contacts Italian authorities and is told that “Anis” is possibly the Tunisian national Anis Amri.

21 December 2015:

Briefing at the Lower Saxony LKA after authorities learn of Amri’s ties to Hildesheim (Abu Walaa). The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA presents its findings.

*December 2015:

Federal investigators begin tapping Amri’s phone as part of the Abu Walaa investigation.

29 December 2015:

Authorities learn that Amri plans to commit a robbery or theft in Berlin. Meeting between North Rhine-Westphalia LKA and Berlin LKA. Berlin police ask the district attorney’s office to launch criminal proceedings, judiciary disagrees.

*January 2016:

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) notes that Amri travels under different identities to Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Baden-Württemberg, trying to recruit accomplices to carry out attacks with him. Amri wants to obtain weapons in the French Islamist scene and raise funds with burglaries and robberies, the BfV concludes.[11]

*8 January 2016:

The trial against the head of Fussilet, Ismet D., and the president of the group’s council of elders, Emin F., starts. They are accused of supporting the terrorist group Junud al-Sham in Syria with recruits, money and equipment.[12]

4 February 2016:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA participates in a meeting of the Joint Counter-Terrorism Center (GTAZ) in Berlin. Result: the situation makes a “harmful event seem rather unlikely,” the report states. The LKA is told to investigate further.

5 February 2016:

The BKA classifies Amri as a “Gefährder” (someone who poses a serious threat) and informs all security authorities nationwide.

17 February 2016:

Dortmund police classify Amri as a “Gefährder North Rhine-Westphalia” (Islamism). Amri had stayed in Dortmund between 22 January and 12 February 2016.

17 February 2016:
Another meeting at the GTAZ in Berlin. The Berlin LKA wants to take its own measures because of Amri’s repeated stays in the German capital. The BKA agrees to contact Italian and Tunisian authorities. Objective: proper identification of Amri.

19 February 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting. The participants stick to their assessment.

*24 February 2016 to 22 March 2016:

Amri leaves Dortmund for Berlin. A secret informant (working either for the BfV or a State Office for the Protection of the Constitution (LfV)) drives Amri to Berlin. Amri tells the informant that his mission is “to kill on behalf of Allah.” He visits the extremist Fussilet mosque in the German capital. Berlin police keep Amri under surveillance.[13]

24 February 2016:

Investigators learn that Amri wants to meet with an Islamic State sympathizer in Berlin who is supposed to help him with his terrorist plans.

25 February 2016:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA proposes to investigate Amri for preparing a “serious state-threatening offense.”

26 February 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting. The participants conclude that there are still no indications of specific dangers after Amri’s stay in Berlin.

10 March 2016:

Amri is no longer classified as a “Gefährder” in North Rhine-Westphalia because he has been living in Berlin since February 24. One day later, Berlin classifies him as a “Gefährder.” Amri is spending the nights at different places in Berlin, he doesn’t register a residence. Amri is still officially registered in Emmerich.

10 March 2016:

The federal prosecutor’s office asks the Berlin public prosecutor’s office to launch investigative proceedings against Amri.

14 March 2016:

The Berlin public prosecutor’s office initiates proceedings against Amri for attempted participation in a homicide. Berlin LKA takes over.

*Mid-March 2016:

Amri is placed under covert surveillance. He is suspected of planning a burglary to raise funds to buy automatic weapons. A covert team follows him and his telephone and computer activities are monitored.[14]

*Investigators note that Amri is gathering information on the internet on how to make pipe bombs.[15]

End of March 2016:  

Amri travels to Dortmund and Oberhausen for a couple of days. He also establishes contacts with the radical Islamist scene there, but investigators don’t receive any information about the planning of an attack or purchase of weapons.

April 2016:

The North Rhine-Westphalia LKA learns that Amri applied for benefits for asylum-seekers in multiple municipalities – with different identities. The LKA files charges against Amri for fraud and false certification, the LKA suggests getting a warrant for his arrest. The district attorney’s office in Duisburg initiates proceedings, but doesn’t want to get an arrest warrant.

*5 April 2016:

Amri is placed under “tight” surveillance in Berlin.[16]

28 April 2016:

Amri files an application for asylum at the Dortmund field office of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF). He poses as “Ahmed Almasri,” Egyptian national. It becomes known that Amri was already assigned to Emmerich under another name.

6 May 2016:

The Berlin LKA no longer classifies Amri as a “Gefährder” because a formal asylum procedure is being initiated in North Rhine-Westphalia.

10 May 2016:

Essen police classify Amri again as a “Gefährder.”

25 May 2016:

Wiretapping of Amri, which began in December 2015, is called off after six months. Amri allegedly served as a “disseminator of information” for one suspect (Abu Walaa), but he is not being charged in the case. The wiretapping is halted because Amri’s contacts with the suspect become less frequent.

*14 June 2016:

Gadzhimurad K. is sentenced to two and a half years in prison for recruiting fighters for the Islamic State group.[17]

*The Fussilet mosque, referred to as “mosque of the ISIS people in Berlin” by investigators, has still not been shut down. Since 2015, Berlin authorities have been sitting on a rmotion to ban Fussilet, citing a shortage of staff and legal barriers.[18][19]

15 June 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting, the same result: Amri poses no “specific” danger, he should be deported.

*30 June 2016:

The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) rejects Amri’s application for asylum as “clearly unfounded” and declares that he can now be deported. Replacement identity documents from Tunisia are required for his deportation, but the Tunisian government is unresponsive.[20]

*July 2016:

Amri is involved in a knife attack in a row over drugs at a bar in Berlin Neukölln.[21]

30 July 2016:

Amri takes the long-distance bus from Berlin to Zürich. He attracts the attention of federal police during a routine check in the southern German city of Friedrichshafen. Amri conceals his identity, he carries two Italian passports and suspected narcotics. Police detain him. A local court in nearby Ravensburg issues a warrant for Amri’s arrest. He is moved to the local detention center pending his deportation.

1 August 2016:

Amri is released from JVA Ravensburg because the necessary documents are still missing. The Kleve immigration office (North Rhine-Westphalia) had pointed out that authorities are trying to get replacement identity documents from Tunisia, but it would take some time, leaving an application for detention pending deportation with no prospect of success.

18 August 2016:

Authorities lose track of Amri in North Rhine-Westphalia. He was last seen in Dortmund and Emmerich.

*19 September 2016:

The Moroccan intelligence service DGST informs Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) that Tunisian national Anis Amri intends to commit a terrorist attack in Germany.[22][23]

*21 September 2016:

Covert surveillance of Amri, which began in March 2016, is halted after six months. The Berlin LKA didn't apply for authorization to continue active surveillance of Amri after September 21.[24] Surveillance showed that Amri was working as a small-time drug dealer in Berlin and that he was involved in a knife attack over drugs, but allegedly no evidence to substantiate the original warning.[25]

26 September 2016:

Tunisian and Moroccan security authorities inform the North Rhine-Westphalia LKA that Amri is an Islamic State supporter, that he is in contact with suspected Tunisian terrorists in Libya, “wants to carry out a project” in Germany and is staying in Berlin. German authorities receive similar information on October 14 and October 26.

10 October and 27 October 2016:

Police try to find Amri at his registered address in Emmerich, to no avail.

20 October 2016:

Tunisian authorities tell the Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) in Cologne that Amri – alias Ahmed Almasri – is not a Tunisian national.

21 October 2016:

Interpol Tunis confirms, beyond any doubt, that Amri is a Tunisian national, sharing passport data.

*21 October 2016:

Morocco’s DGST warns Germany again about “the tendencies of Anis Amri and his readiness to perpetrate a terrorist attack.”[26]

27 October 2016:
The Central Foreigners Authority (ZAB) requests passport replacement documents at the Consulate General of Tunisia in Bonn.

28 October 2016:

Amri’s cell phone is located “in the Berlin/Brandenburg region.”

2 November 2016:

Another GTAZ meeting, all authorities are aware of Amri’s stay in Berlin.

*8 November 2016:

Abu Walaa (Islamic State’s “number one in Germany”) and four suspected accomplices are arrested in a series of coordinated raids in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.[27]

*November 2016:

The district attorney’s office in Duisburg suspends the fraud case against Amri because no one in Duisburg can track his whereabouts.[28]

5 December 2016:

The Kleve immigration office (North Rhine-Westphalia) deregisters Amri. He has not been staying at his last registered address, the municipal accommodation facility in Emmerich, for some time.

*19 December 2016:

Amri visits the Fussilet mosque in Berlin before putting his plan into action.[29]

19 December 2016:

Anis Amri drives a truck into the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz in Berlin. Twelve people are killed and 56 others injured.

21 December 2016:

The Consulate General of Tunisia in Bonn sends the passport replacement documents for Amri’s deportation.

*23 December 2016:

Amri is killed in a shootout with police in Milan, Italy.

*9 January 2017:

No one has resigned over the Amri debacle, but “German politicians are falling over each other to come up with new security measures to prevent terrorist attacks.”[30]

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] “German officials: Anis Amri used at least 14 identities,” Deutsche Welle, 5 January 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/german-officials-anis-amri-used-at-least-14-identities/a-37029856.

[2] Ruth Bender, “German Officials Met Seven Times to Discuss Berlin Attacker Before Assault,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 January 2017: http://www.wsj.com/articles/german-officials-met-seven-times-to-discuss-berlin-attacker-before-assault-1483640613?mod=e2tw.

[3] “Chronik: Amris Monate vor dem Anschlag,” Westdeutscher Rundfunk, 5 January 2017: http://www1.wdr.de/nachrichten/anis-amri-chronik-100.html.

[4] Matthias Bartsch et al., “Germany Knew Terrorist Was Dangerous But Failed To Stop Him,” Spiegel Online, 5 January 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/germany-knew-terrorist-was-dangerous-but-failed-to-stop-him-a-1128423.html.

[5] Volkmar Kabisch et al., “"Nummer 1 des IS in Deutschland" festgenommen,” Norddeutscher Rundfunk, 8 November 2016:  https://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html.

[6] “Berlin imam arrested for supporting 'Islamic State',” Deutsche Welle, 15 October 2015: http://www.dw.com/en/berlin-imam-arrested-for-supporting-islamic-state/a-18785981.

[7] Daniil Turovsky, “‘Islamic State is now a global territory’ ‘Meduza’ interviews a prominent ISIL imam based in Berlin,” Meduza, 26 May 2015: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2015/05/26/islamic-state-is-now-a-global-territory.

[8] Georg Heil, Georg Mascolo and Lena Kampf, “Fall Anis Amri: Verpasste Chancen,” tagesschau.de, 3 January 2017: http://www.tagesschau.de/inland/fall-amri-verpasste-chancen-101.html.

[9] “Tod in Mailand – Terrorverdächtiger erschossen,” ARD-Brennpunkt, 23 December 2016: http://www.daserste.de/information/nachrichten-wetter/brennpunkt/sendung/brennpunkt-tod-in-mailand-terrorverdaechtiger-erschossen-100.html.

[10] Ibid., ARD-Brennpunkt.

[11] Ibid., Heil, Mascolo and Kampf.

[12] Karin Hendrich and Anne Losensky, “„Emir von Wedding“ und sein Komplize schweigen vor Gericht,” B.Z., 8 January 2016: http://www.bz-berlin.de/tatort/menschen-vor-gericht/emir-von-wedding-und-sein-komplize-schweigen-vor-gericht.

[13] Ibid., ARD-Brennpunkt.

[14] Fiona Hamilton, “Inquiry into failure of surveillance operation,” The Sunday Times, 23 December 2016: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/inquiry-into-failure-of-surveillance-operation-29njw02bj.

[15] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[16] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[17] “ISIL's information aggregator How a Dagestani refugee became a Berlin imam working for the ‘Islamic State’,” Meduza, 15 June 2016: https://meduza.io/en/feature/2016/06/15/isil-s-information-aggregator.

[18] “Was wissen wir über die Fussilet-Moschee?,” Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg, 23 December 2016: http://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2016/12/moscheeverein-fussilet33-moabit-attentaeter.html.

[19] “Berliner Verwaltung: Zu wenig Personal für Verbotsverfahren gegen Moschee-Verein,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 23 December 2016: http://www.faz.net/berliner-verwaltung-personal-fehlte-fuer-verbotsverfahren-gegen-moschee-verein-14589817.html.

[20] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[21] Hannes Heine and Sebastian Leber, “Anis Amris Leben in Berlin: Der Möchtegern-Gotteskrieger,” Der Tagesspiegel, 5 January 2017: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/themen/reportage/anis-amris-leben-in-berlin-der-moechtegern-gotteskrieger/19211204.html.

[22] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[23] Tom Porter, “Morocco 'warned Germany of Anis Amri terror threat weeks before Berlin attack',” International Business Times, 23 December 2016: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/morocco-warned-germany-anis-amri-terror-threat-weeks-before-berlin-attack-1597949.

[24] Melanie Amann et al., “After Terror Attack, Germany Examines Security Architecture,” Spiegel Online, 6 January 2017: http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/after-terror-attack-germany-examines-security-architecture-a-1128917.html.

[25] Ibid., Hamilton.

[26] Ibid., Porter.

[27] “German police arrest five in raid on 'IS network',” BBC, 8 November 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37906960.

[28] Ibid., Bartsch et al., Spiegel Online.

[29] Florian Flade, Tobias Heimbach and Marcel Leubecher, “Salafisten in Berlin: Amri betete, wo der „Emir von Wedding“ regiert,” Die Welt, 5 January 2016: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article160881946/Amri-betete-wo-der-Emir-von-Wedding-regiert.html.

[30] Ben Knight, “Germany wrangles over new security measures,” Deutsche Welle, 9 January 2017: http://www.dw.com/en/germany-wrangles-over-new-security-measures/a-37068437.

Newsbud Exclusive- The World’s Biggest Hostage Crisis Comes to an End

East Aleppo Civilians Describe How ‘Rebels’ Prevented Them from Leaving

As Syrian government forces recapture more parts of eastern Aleppo, many civilians are risking their lives to flee the besieged opposition-controlled areas, telling the world that the so-called “rebels” stop at nothing to prevent people from leaving.

The Syrian government and its Russian allies have long accused armed opposition groups in Aleppo of holding civilians hostage, whereas western governments and media have been promoting a different narrative in tune with “rebel” and “activist” sources. This narrative is now falling apart.

When government forces first managed to encircle the opposition-held districts of Aleppo in July of this year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the opening of humanitarian corridors “to aid civilians held hostage by terrorists and for fighters wishing to lay down their arms.”[1]

Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in a July 26 letter to the Security Council that “the Syrian Army informed the civilian residents of those neighborhoods that it has secured safe passages, for those who want to safely exit those areas, and that it has allocated temporary accommodation for them.”

Jaafari’s American counterpart Samantha Power described the letter as “chilling,” commenting on Twitter that Jaafari “warns Syrians to leave eastern Aleppo and entrust their lives to a government that has bombed and starved them.”[2]

Likewise, the Guardian said the announcement of humanitarian corridors “must be exposed as a cynical ruse,” stating that “it is no surprise that Aleppo’s population is not rushing towards these exit corridors, which have not in any case materialised on the ground.”[3]

Contrary to the Guardian’s claims, civilians in eastern Aleppo tried to use the exit corridors, much to the dismay of the armed opposition groups. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), only “around 12 people managed to use the Bustan al-Qasr corridor before rebel groups reinforced security measures and prevented families from approaching the corridors.”[4]

Instead of putting pressure on the “rebel groups” to allow civilians to leave, the United States and its allies supported a major offensive led and organized by terrorist organization Jabhat al-Nusra to break the siege and “put some pressure back on Russia and Iran,” as one western diplomat put it.[5]

The Nusra-led July-August offensive was successful but didn’t change the course of the battle for Aleppo.

A few weeks later, Nusra terrorists and their brothers-in-arms in eastern Aleppo found themselves again under siege.

Before pursuing a military solution, the Syrian government and Russia announced a unilateral cease-fire to allow civilians and surrendering fighters to leave the opposition-controlled areas.

Once again, the opposition groups in eastern Aleppo did their best to prevent this.

ITV News, reporting from government-held western Aleppo on the first day of the unilateral cease-fire, confirmed that “rebels” were firing on checkpoints and exit corridors, making it extremely dangerous for anyone to leave eastern Aleppo. Describing the situation at one of the checkpoints, ITV News correspondent Dan Rivers said: “We were forced to run for cover as rebel sniper fire sent soldiers and onlookers scattering for their lives.”[6]

As The Independent’s Bethan McKernan pointed out, “several residents inside east Aleppo reported that people trying to cross into the West were shot at by mortar fire.”

Despite all evidence to the contrary, antigovernment fighters and their supporters kept denying that civilians were being held hostage in eastern Aleppo. “Rebel sources and activists from the Aleppo Media Centre said reports of the opposition stopping evacuations were fabricated,” McKernan noted.[7]

“All the human corridors that the regime is promoting, are all lies,” antigovernment activist Bassem Ayoud told The New York Times. “What’s happening is an extermination of people.”[8]

These dubious claims went largely unchallenged; instead, many western journalists and analysts cheered on another “rebel” offensive intended to break the siege of eastern Aleppo.

As was the case with the July-August offensive, the October-November offensive only prolonged the suffering of civilians in both eastern and western Aleppo.

Two days into the offensive, Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, said he was “appalled and shocked by the high number of rockets indiscriminately launched by armed opposition groups on civilian suburbs of western Aleppo in the last 48 hours.”

“Those who argue that this is meant to relieve the siege of eastern Aleppo should be reminded that nothing justifies the use of disproportionate and indiscriminate weapons, including heavy ones, on civilian areas and it could amount to war crimes,” de Mistura said in a statement issued by his office on October 30.[9]

Despite showing a total disregard for civilian life, the jihadist-led opposition fighters were not able to break the siege this time around, suffering a devastating defeat in “the mother of all battles,” as they called it.

During this time, Russia refrained from resuming airstrikes on Aleppo, sticking to the unilateral cease-fire, but only a few dozen civilians were able to leave the opposition-controlled areas. Among them was Khaled Kadoura who fled to the government side with his wife Samira and their eight-year-old son. Kadoura painted a much different picture than “rebel” and “activist” sources, telling Robert Fisk from The Independent:

“On the day this started [20 October], the armed groups in east Aleppo surrounded the people who wanted to leave with a sort of ‘security circle’ to prevent them going out. They even had weapons in their hands. They shot at some people – I was told six died – and they killed a pregnant woman. She was killed and there were others wounded. They accused the [Syrian] government of shelling the passageways. We waited till night to cross and we waited till after the Maghreb prayers when we knew that the armed men near the crossing point would have gone to rest. Later, they were all arrested and accused of taking bribes to allow us to cross. We had to be so careful because of mines.”

After he fled with his wife and son, his 27-year old brother Hamzi was arrested by Ahrar al-Sham and sentenced to execution, Kadoura said.[10]

Despite all that, western media outlets kept echoing absurd opposition propaganda.

Summarizing the period of the unilateral cease-fire, Kareem Shaheen and Emma Graham-Harrison from the Guardian wrote: “Almost no one came through the corridors, which opposition fighters said were not actually safe.”

The fact that opposition fighters were firing on the exit corridors was not mentioned in the article.

No one at the Guardian bothered to question the claims of Fastaqim spokesman Sharif al-Halabi as he told them that the opposition still had the support of most people in the besieged areas.

“Of course under bombardment people are going to be restless and complain, but the fact of the matter is the majority of those who live in the liberated areas are with the Free Syrian Army despite the siege,” the Guardian quoted al-Halabi as saying.[11]

But a few weeks later, opposition lines in eastern Aleppo began collapsing, enabling tens of thousands of civilians to flee and tell the world their side of the story.

17-year-old Rasha told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that opposition fighters did not allow her to leave when she wanted to move to her parents’ new home outside Aleppo.[12] “All my neighbours wanted to leave but the rebels prevented them many times,” Rasha said in an interview.[13]

Another woman would speak only in confidence about the dangerous journey to the government side. She explained to the BBC that opposition fighters tried to prevent civilians from leaving saying that they would be killed by the Syrian army if they crossed over. As if this was merely a side note, the BBC noted in passing: “Like many others, she recounted how they came under rebel fire as they tried to escape.”[14]

Likewise, the Associated Press (AP) buried a remarkable eyewitness account in the last two paragraphs of its report from Jibreen, where thousands of men, women and children from eastern Aleppo have taken refuge:

"We were under pressure by all means, psychological and financial. The gunmen were trying to prevent us from leaving until the army came," said 36-year-old Amina Rwein, who fled with her husband, seven daughters and three sons.

"We came under fire from the gunmen as we were leaving and the army hit the minaret from where the sniper was shooting, and then we crossed," she said.[15]

Many people who fled eastern Aleppo told similar stories, confirming that the so-called “rebels” shot at civilians to prevent them from leaving.

“I wanted to leave with my kids 15 days ago but the rebels shot at me and said 'Hey, you bastard -- do you want to join the regime?” one man told CNN at a camp in Jibreen.

For some reason, none of this made the headlines.

Moreover, CNN and others kept promoting the same “rebel” and “activist” sources that had just been exposed as participants in a devious propaganda campaign, such as the pro-opposition Aleppo Media Center.[16]

Thanks to the support of western media, “rebel” and “activist” sources have been able to deceive the public for months while hundreds, possibly thousands, of civilians were being held hostage in eastern Aleppo.

Needless to say, not all civilians want to cross over to the government side, but it is impossible to tell how many civilians are still staying in the ever shrinking opposition-controlled areas and how many of them are being prevented from leaving.

On December 7, the United States, the United Kingdom and other NATO countries issued a statement claiming that “some 200,000 civilians, including many children, in eastern Aleppo are cut off from food and medicine supplies.”[17]

Although opposition fighters already lost control of three quarters of their territory in eastern Aleppo, international humanitarian officials estimate that only around 30,000 civilians have fled to government-held areas in the past week.[18]

It is only a question of time before Syrian government forces recapture all opposition-held districts of Aleppo. Once the dust settles, it will become clear how many people were really living in eastern Aleppo under the rule of Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other opposition groups.

Supporting these groups and helping them spread their propaganda will only prolong the suffering of civilians in Aleppo.

When opposition fighters invaded Aleppo more than four years ago after the city refused to join the uprising, a “rebel” commander told the Guardian:

“Around 70% of Aleppo city is with the regime. It has always been that way. The countryside is with us and the city is with them. We are saying that we will only be here as long as it takes to get the job done, to get rid of the Assads. After that, we will leave and they can build the city that they want.”[19]

As the world’s biggest hostage crisis comes to an end, the armed opposition and its supporters have to ask themselves if trying “to get rid of the Assads” was really worth all the death and destruction.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

 

[1] “Calls grow for Syria government to end Aleppo siege,” Agence France-Presse, 29 July 2016: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Jul-29/364570-calls-grow-for-syria-government-to-end-aleppo-siege.ashx.

[2] Andrey Ostroukh, Raja Abdulrahim and Farnaz Fassihi, “Russia, Syria Promise Exit Corridors for Rebels, Civilians in Aleppo,” The Wall Street Journal, 28 July 2016: http://www.wsj.com/articles/russia-promises-exit-corridors-for-rebels-civilians-in-aleppo-1469719490.

[3] “The Guardian view on the battle for Aleppo: stop it now,” The Guardian, 29 July 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/29/the-guardian-view-on-the-battle-for-aleppo-stop-it-now.

[4] Ibid., Agence France-Presse.

[5] Erika Solomon, “Outside help behind rebel advances in Aleppo,” Financial Times, 8 August 2016: https://www.ft.com/content/da076830-5d77-11e6-a72a-bd4bf1198c63.

[6] “Gunfire intensifies in Aleppo despite ceasefire,” ITV News, 20 October 2016: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-10-20/itv-news-witnesses-fierce-gunfight-in-aleppo-despite-ceasefire/.

[7] Bethan McKernan, “East Aleppo civilians ‘shot at’ by rebels to prevent them leaving during truce,” The Independent, 21 October 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/aleppo-crisis-latest-rebel-assad-blame-un-lack-evacuations-a7374081.html.

[8] Anne Barnard, “Wary of Russian Guarantees, Residents Stay Put in War-Torn Aleppo,” The New York Times, 20 October 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/world/middleeast/aleppo-syria-russia-cease-fire.html.

[9] “Media statement from the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria, Mr. Staffan de Mistura,” UN Department of Public Information, 30 October 2016: http://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/media-statement-office-united-nations-special-envoy-syria-mr-staffan-3.

[10] Robert Fisk, “'We were living a real tragedy in east Aleppo': One family's journey across the city amid the bloodshed,” The Independent, 1 November 2016: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/thousands-of-civilian-families-forced-by-militias-to-remain-in-eastern-aleppo-a7389346.html.

[11] Kareem Shaheen and Emma Graham-Harrison, “Russia and Assad to pound rebels as east Aleppo braces for attack,” The Guardian, 5 November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/05/russia-and-assad-prepare-pound-rebels-east-aleppo-braces-for-aerial-onslaught.

[12] Maher Al-Mounes, “Aleppo family reunited after months separated by war,” Agence France-Presse, 2 December 2016: https://www.yahoo.com/news/aleppo-family-reunited-months-separated-war-142742007.html.

[13] “Aleppo family reunited after months separated by war,” Agence France-Presse, 2 December 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0jrHGRTbfc

[14] Lyse Doucet, “Aleppo siege: 'We are crying and afraid',” BBC, 3 December 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38194962.

[15] “Syria: Thousands of Aleppo's Displaced Pack Market Shelter,” The Associated Press, 3 December 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/12/03/world/middleeast/ap-ml-syria-aleppos-displaced.html?_r=0.

[16] Frederik Pleitgen and Angela Dewan, “Syrian war: CNN goes inside Aleppo under airstrikes,” CNN, 5 December 2016: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/12/04/middleeast/syria-civil-war/.

[17] Joint statement from the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States on the situation in Aleppo, 7 December 2016: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joint-statement-on-aleppo-7-december-2016.

[18] Anne Barnard, “Syrian Forces Said to Drive Deeper Into Rebel-Held Aleppo,” The New York Times, 7 December 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/07/world/middleeast/syria-aleppo.html.

[19] Martin Chulov, “Syrian rebels fight on for Aleppo despite local wariness,” The Guardian, 21 August 2012: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/aug/21/syrian-rebels-aleppo-local-hostility.

 

 

Newsbud Exclusive- The Disastrous Track Record of the New ‘Leader of the Free World’

Angela Merkel Is Concerned About the Next Election – And With Good Reason

Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election came as a shock to many, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Merkel has made no secret of her admiration for Hillary Clinton. “I admire her strategic thinking and her strong commitment to the trans-Atlantic partnership,” Merkel told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in an interview earlier this year. “Whenever I was able to work with Hillary Clinton, it was a great pleasure.”[1]

But instead of congratulating her old friend Hillary, the German Chancellor was forced to congratulate Republican candidate Donald Trump on winning the U.S. presidential election.

Merkel didn’t even bother hiding her disappointment, issuing a carefully crafted statement that sounded more like a warning to President-elect Trump than a congratulatory message:

“Germany’s ties with the United States of America are deeper than with any country outside of the European Union. Germany and America are bound by common values — democracy, freedom, as well as respect for the rule of law and the dignity of each and every person, regardless of their origin, skin color, creed, gender, sexual orientation, or political views. It is based on these values that I wish to offer close cooperation, both with me personally and between our countries’ governments.”[2]

Merkel’s words were well received by the establishment press, which had just suffered one of its worst defeats and was trying to portray Trump’s victory as an attack on Western values.

British historian Timothy Garton Ash described Merkel’s statement as “the most dignified response I have seen to Trump’s election” and concluded:

“The phrase “leader of the free world” is usually applied to the president of the United States, and rarely without irony. I’m tempted to say that the leader of the free world is now Angela Merkel.”[3]

Likewise, The New York Times and others also declared German Chancellor Merkel the new “leader of the free world” after Hillary Clinton couldn’t take up the role.

In this regard, Merkel’s job is “to defend Western liberal constitutionalism against the politics of resentment and anger,” as Constanze Stelzenmüller of the Brookings Institution put it.

There is a lot at stake in Germany’s 2017 federal election when Merkel seeks a fourth term in office.

“Should she lose, the loss would not just be Germany’s,” Stelzenmüller warned.[4]

Still in shock after Brexit and Hillary Clinton’s defeat, large parts of the political and media establishment in the West are now rallying behind Angela Merkel to support her fight against “the politics of resentment and anger.”

However, the German people are not necessarily keen on renewing Merkel’s mandate. Especially the handling of the refugee crisis has cost her much popularity, but that is not the only reason why many Germans are resentful and angry.

Merkel has damaged three important pillars of German post-war politics: the German welfare state, European integration and German Ostpolitik.

Even before coming to power, CDU leader Angela Merkel actively supported the dismantling of the German welfare state, initiated by SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schröder with his controversial Agenda 2010.

In late 2005, Merkel then picked up where Schröder left off, personally thanking him in her government policy statement for implementing the Agenda 2010 reforms despite opposition.

A decade later, Germany is near the top of the inequality scale in terms of wealth distribution. The top 10% of German households own about 60% of the country’s wealth, whereas the lower half of households own just 2.5%.[5]

Only a few people benefit from the booming economy while the gap between rich and poor continues to grow.

“Germany’s increasing wealth goes hand in hand with growing inequality,” concluded a report by Germany’s Joint Welfare Association Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband last year.

Merkel and her supporters often cite record low numbers of unemployment as a measure of success, neglecting the fact that record numbers of Germans are living in poverty. Unemployment has simply been turned into low-paying jobs, leading to a major increase in the number of people who are poor despite having a job.[6]

The risk of falling into poverty has grown under Merkel, rising from 14% in 2006 to around 16% in 2015.

Her championing of neoliberal policies has done incredible damage in Germany and beyond.

Greece has been devastated and the European project has been damaged beyond repair. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi recently warned that Merkel’s obsession with austerity is strangling Europe, and that is hardly an overstatement.[7]

To make matters worse, the German Chancellor has led Europe into a new Cold War.

Under Merkel’s leadership, Germany jettisoned the cooperative Ostpolitik in favor of a policy of confrontation towards Russia, which eventually culminated in a NATO-backed coup d’état in Ukraine.

Instead of preventing the United States from installing a rabid anti-Russian regime in Kiev, the Merkel-led government supported the move, provoking a predictable response from Russia.

Merkel’s treatment of Russia has been criticized by former Chancellors Helmut Schmidt, Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder as well as large parts of the population, to no avail.

Although the overwhelming majority of Germans opposed economic sanctions against Russia, the German government readily agreed to follow Washington’s lead.[8]

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden boasted later of “America’s leadership and the President of the United States insisting, oft times almost having to embarrass Europe to stand up and take economic hits to impose costs.”[9]

Thanks to Merkel, Germany is taking the biggest economic hit.

The French Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales (CEPII) examined the impact of the diplomatic conflict on Western exports, estimating the total export loss at $60.2 billion between December 2013 and June 2015.

“Germany is losing the most exports in absolute terms, more than US$832 million per month,” according to the CEPII analysis. “In percentage terms, Germany is bearing 27% of the global lost trade, while other major geopolitical players like the United States (0.4%), France (5.6%) and the United Kingdom (4.1%) incurred much less.”[10]

Chancellor Merkel’s subservience to Washington regarding the Ukrainian conflict came as no surprise. Putting American over German interests has been a hallmark of Merkel’s career, even before coming to power.

After SPD Chancellor Schröder announced that Germany would not support U.S. plans to invade Iraq, Merkel assured the U.S. establishment that “Schroeder doesn’t speak for all Germans.”[11] She did her best to drum up support for the Iraq War, delivering a remarkable speech to the German Bundestag on September 13, 2002 that should have disqualified her from ever running for office.[12]

Today, Merkel denies having supported the Iraq War in an attempt to distance herself from U.S.-NATO actions that have led to the refugee crisis. But her support of these actions is more apparent than ever.

In early 2012, just a few months after the United States and its allies launched a covert war on Syria, Germany began working on “The Day After.”

“The Day After” was the name of a secret project organized by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), a government-funded think tank with close ties to the Federal Intelligence Service (BND), in close cooperation with the Orwellian-named United States Institute of Peace (USIP).

Around 45 Syrian opposition members “of all stripes,” including members of the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Muslim Brotherhood, were flown into Berlin to “support a democratic transition in Syria.” Bringing the Islamist participants to the United States would have been difficult. This was one of the reasons why Berlin was chosen as the venue for the project.[13]

Germany has supported the U.S.-led war on Syria in various ways, for example with a spy ship off the Syrian coast. German officials were convinced that Assad’s fall was only a matter of time. “We can be proud of our important contribution to the fall of the Assad regime,” a BND official told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag newspaper in August 2012.[14]

Four years later, hundreds of thousands of people are dead, more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria and around 5 million Syrians have fled the country, many of whom are now seeking refuge in Germany.

The German Chancellor has been heavily criticized for her handling of the refugee crisis but her role in creating the crisis deserves close scrutiny as well.

Angela Merkel’s time in office has been disastrous – not just for Germany.

While the Western establishment is celebrating the new “leader of the free world,” many Germans are desperately looking for alternatives in the 2017 federal election. Merkel is already raising the specter of Russian interference, fake news, bots and trolls, underlining her concerns with regard to public opinion.[15][16] Her hopes of winning another election rest on the lack of attractive alternatives, not her popularity.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] Patrick Donahue, “Merkel Lauds Clinton, Brushes Off Trump Attacks Over Refugees,” Bloomberg, 6 March 2016: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-03-06/merkel-lauds-clinton-brushes-off-trump-attacks-over-refugees.

[2] Anthony Faiola, “Angela Merkel congratulates Donald Trump — kind of,” The Washington Post, 9 November 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/11/09/angela-merkel-congratulates-donald-trump-kind-of/.

[3] Timothy Garton Ash, “Populists are out to divide us. They must be stopped,” The Guardian, 11 November 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/11/populists-us.

[4] Constanze Stelzenmüller, “Is Angela Merkel the leader of the free world now? Not quite.,” Brookings Institution, 17 November 2016: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/11/17/is-angela-merkel-the-leader-of-the-free-world-now-not-quite/.

[5] Norbert Häring and Jan Mallien, “Germany’s Deep Wealth Divide,” Handelsblatt, 22 March 2016: https://global.handelsblatt.com/politics/germanys-wide-rich-poor-gap-477017.

[6] Rick Noack, “Germany’s economy is the envy of Europe. So why are record numbers of people living in poverty?,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2015: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/02/20/germanys-economy-is-the-envy-of-europe-so-why-are-record-numbers-of-people-living-in-poverty/.

[7] John Follain, “Austerity Only Benefits Germany and Destroys Europe, Renzi Says,” Bloomberg, 20 September 2016: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-20/austerity-only-benefits-germany-and-destroys-europe-renzi-says.

[8] Hardy Graupner, “Majority of Germans against anti-Russia economic sanctions,” Deutsche Welle, 7 March 2014: http://www.dw.com/en/majority-of-germans-against-anti-russia-economic-sanctions/a-17480983.

[9] Remarks by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at the John F. Kennedy Forum, Harvard Kennedy School, 3 October 2014: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/10/03/remarks-vice-president-john-f-kennedy-forum.

[10] Matthieu Crozet and Julian Hinz, “Collateral Damage: The Impact of the Russia Sanctions on Sanctioning Countries’ Exports,” Centre d'Études Prospectives et d'Informations Internationales (CEPII), June 2016: http://www.cepii.fr/CEPII/en/publications/wp/abstract.asp?NoDoc=9213.

[11] Angela Merkel, “Schroeder Doesn't Speak for All Germans,” The Washington Post, 20 February 2003: https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2003/02/20/schroeder-doesnt-speak-for-all-germans/1e88b69d-ac42-48e2-a4ab-21f62c413505/?utm_term=.29eec0667360.

[12] Speech by Angela Merkel to the German Bundestag, 13 September 2002: http://dip21.bundestag.de/dip21/btp/14/14253.pdf.

[13] Jörg Lau, “Assad-Gegner: Das neue Syrien kommt aus Wilmersdorf,” Die Zeit, 26 July 2012: http://www.zeit.de/2012/31/Syrien-Bundesregierung/komplettansicht.

[14] “Deutsches Spionageschiff hilft syrischen Rebellen,” Die Welt, 19 August 2012: https://www.welt.de/politik/ausland/article108682338/Deutsches-Spionageschiff-hilft-syrischen-Rebellen.html.

[15] “Merkel warns of Russian cyber attacks in German elections,” Deutsche Welle, 8 November 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/merkel-warns-of-russian-cyber-attacks-in-german-elections/a-36314197.

[16] Caroline Copley, “Merkel fears social bots may manipulate German election,” Reuters, 24 November 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-merkel-socialbots-idUSKBN13J1V0.

 

 

Germany’s Social Democrats to Challenge Merkel with ‘Pro-Russian’ Ostpolitik 2.0

German Media Alarmed as SPD Prepares Russia-Friendly Election Campaign

In June of this year, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier shocked the political and media establishment in Germany and other NATO countries when he criticized NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, saying:“What we should not do now, however, is further inflame the situation with loud sabre-rattling and war cries. Anyone who believes that symbolic tank parades on the Alliance’s eastern border will increase security is wrong. We would be well advised not to deliver up any excuses for a new, old confrontation.”[1]

Steinmeier instead called for dialogue and cooperation with Russia, just a few days before the July 8 NATO summit in Warsaw.

His comments reflected growing divisions within Germany’s ruling coalition over policy toward Russia with Steinmeier’s Social Democrats (SPD) backing a more conciliatory approach than Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

Senior CDU members responded to Steinmeier’s words with fierce criticism and accused the Foreign Minister of being a “Putin apologist.”

During a meeting of the CDU leadership in Berlin, Volker Bouffier, Minister President of the German state of Hesse, called on Steinmeier to clarify his remarks, emphasizing: “We, actually, always agreed that we […] really protect NATO territory.”[2]

However, this sentiment is not shared by the majority of the German population.

A representative survey by TNS Emnid in March 2016 found that over half of Germans (57 %) do not support sending German troops to defend NATO members such as Poland or the Baltic states if they are attacked by Russia. Only one out of three Germans (31%) think Germany should fulfill its obligations as a NATO member and stand in defense of Poland and the Baltic states.[3]

Steinmeier’s comments drew sharp criticism and even ridicule from the political and media establishment but were well received by the general public.

Spiegel Online, one of the most widely read news sites in Germany, asked its readers what they thought of Steinmeier’s statement. About 90,000 people cast their votes in a Spiegel Online poll. More than 70% of them agreed that it was “an important signal for a rapprochement with Russia.” Only around 14% regarded it as a “sign of weakness towards the Kremlin” and 13% as a domestic political move.[4]

There seems to be a huge disconnect in Germany between public opinion and the discourse in politics and media when it comes to Russia and NATO’s “sabre-rattling.”

Steinmeier and his SPD colleagues have realized this and are reportedly planning to exploit it in the 2017 German federal election.

According to a recent report by the German newspaper Die Zeit, the Social Democrats want to position themselves as the "peace party" in the coming elections:

“That means "no" to new sanctions against Russia, "no" to a heightened conflict with Vladimir Putin, and "yes" to further talks. In this way, the party aims to differentiate itself from Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU). That the Social Democrats could attract angry pro-Putin citizens from the left and the right is part of the plan. But they don't want to get caught playing this double game.”

As Die Zeit notes, “the test phase to find out which Russian tone of voice best suits the party faithful has already begun.”[5]

Steinmeier’s “sabre-rattling” comments should be seen in this context.

A few weeks after criticizing NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe, the German Foreign Minister laid out his plan for cooperation with Russia on arms control in the pages of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) in an article titled “Dialogue instead of Arms Race.”[6]

As the FAZ published Steinmeier’s op-ed, all SPD members received an email with the same title from the party chair containing the electronic signatures of Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel.

“The old ghost of bloc confrontation seems to have reawakened,” they wrote, calling on their fellow Social Democrats to uphold the legacy and continue the work of SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt and his right-hand man Egon Bahr, the architects behind West Germany’s “Ostpolitik.”

Pointing out that no other party has supported German-Russian relations in a similar way, the SPD leaders stressed:

“Back then, we didn't allow ourselves to be diverted from our course, nor will we allow that to happen today.”

The email reads like a preliminary draft for the 2017 election campaign.

SPD deputy chairman Ralf Stegner already went on the record as saying: “A new policy of détente that eases tensions and concentrates on peace in Europe should be among our five big election platforms.” Stegner said he feels a “massive desire to deescalate tensions with Moscow” not only in the east of the country but also on his home turf in Schleswig Holstein.[7]

With recent polls showing a drop in popularity to just 22%, the SPD is looking for ways to challenge the CDU/CSU faction, which is currently polling at 34%.[8]

Developing some kind of Ostpolitik 2.0 that addresses the rising fears of a military confrontation with Russia makes a lot of sense.[9]

As Professor Filip Kovacevic has pointed out, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier is not a “Putin apologist” or “pro-Russian,” as some of his public statements might suggest, quite the contrary.[10]

In fact, Steinmeier has often put American interests over German interests during his career.[11] The same applies to many of his SPD colleagues, but taking a “pro-Russian” stance could pay off for the Social Democrats in the 2017 German federal election.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s Minister President Erwin Sellering was the last Social Democrat who ran a Russia-friendly election campaign. Inviting former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and pleading to abolish sanctions immediately played well with the electorate in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Sellering won by a large margin. His election campaign could serve as a model for future campaigns.

However, if the Social Democrats decide to go ahead with their plan, they are going to face a lot of criticism not only from Merkel’s CDU and other parties, but also from the media. Nothing illustrates this better than the report by Die Zeit, which is a prime example of the anti-Russian propaganda that is prevalent in German media:

“How long can the SPD maintain its deference to Russia if Vladimir Putin continues the indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Syria, or finds a new way to escalate the situation in Eastern Ukraine?”

When one asks leading Social Democrats this question, they seem as clueless as ever.“[12]

German media is even more hostile towards Russia than American or British media.[13] This has been particularly apparent in the reporting on Syria and Ukraine.

Running a Russia-friendly election campaign is going to be an uphill battle, so it remains to be seen if the Social Democrats can really pull it off and challenge Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party in the next federal election.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] “Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on relations between NATO and Russia,” Federal Foreign Office, 19 June 2016: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2016/160619_BM_Bild_am_Sonntag_engl_version.html.

[2] “CDU-Politiker attackieren Steinmeier als “Putin-Versteher”,” Reuters, 20 June 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-russland-nato-union-idDEKCN0Z60XC.

[3] “Frayed Partnership - German public opinion on Russia,” Bertelsmann Stiftung/Institute of Public Affairs, 22 April 2016: https://www.bertelsmann-stiftung.de/en/our-projects/strengthening-and-connecting-europe/news/stress-test-for-german-russian-relations/.

[4] Vanessa Steinmetz, “Nato-Kritik des Außenministers: "Keine Ahnung, wo Steinmeier plötzlich den Mut hergenommen hat",” Spiegel Online, 21 June 2016: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/leser-reaktionen-auf-steinmeiers-russland-zitat-a-1098959.html.

[5] Fabian Klask, “SPD: Where Is It Headed?,” Die Zeit, 8 November 2016: http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2016-11/spd-russia-peace-harmonization-election-campaign/komplettansicht.

[6] Frank-Walter Steinmeier, “Dialog statt Wettrüsten,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 26 August 2016: https://www.spd.de/aktuelles/detail/news/dialog-statt-wettruesten/26/08/2016/.

[7] Ibid., Klask.

[8] “Umfrage - SPD fällt auf tiefsten Stand seit drei Monaten,” Reuters, 6 November 2016: http://de.reuters.com/article/deutschland-wahlen-umfrage-idDEKBN1310GR

[9] Andreas Rinke and Erik Kirschbaum, “A third of Germans fear war erupting with Russia over Ukraine, Syria: poll,” Reuters, 26 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-crisis-germany-idUSKCN12Q2GN.

[10] Filip Kovacevic, “The Leaked Montenegrin Government Files: Part II – the U.S. Agents of Influence within the German Government,” NewsBud, 29 September 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/09/29/the-leaked-montenegrin-government-files-part-ii-the-u-s-agents-of-influence-within-the-german-government/.

[11] Markus Kompa, “Doppelagent Steinmeier enttarnt,” Telepolis, 5 October 2014: https://www.heise.de/tp/news/Doppelagent-Steinmeier-enttarnt-2411623.html.

[12] Ibid., Klask.

[13] Alexey Khlebnikov, “Russia is now monitoring the world’s mass media for bias,” Russia Direct, 25 February 2015: http://www.russia-direct.org/analysis/russia-now-monitoring-world%E2%80%99s-mass-media-bias.

Washington War Party Urges Obama to Go to War against Assad & the Russians

Clinton Fans Call on Obama to “Save Aleppo” as NATO-GCC-Backed ‘Rebels’ Prepare New Offensive

On October 21, The Washington Post published a noteworthy op-ed titled “Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now,” written by retired U.S. Marine General John Allen and self-proclaimed Syria expert Charles Lister. Allen is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and serves on the board of advisors of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), an American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) cutout. The retired four-star general attracted a lot of attention earlier this year when he delivered a forceful endorsement of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention.

Lister was formerly a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar and is now a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Institute, which describes itself as “an unbiased source of information and analysis” on the Middle East and partners with corporations such as Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Saudi Aramco. Lister has dismissed conflict of interest allegations by saying his contact with the Syrian opposition “had absolutely nothing to do with Qatar” and stressing that his “work on this is 100% funded by Western govts.”[1]

Allen and Lister harshly criticize U.S. “inaction” in Syria in their October 21 op-ed, emphasizing that “the Assad clique and its backers must be brought to account before it is too late.”

The authors’ case rests on the premise that U.S. policy in Syria has been characterized by inaction and “has never sought to decisively influence the tactical situation on the ground.”[2]

Since the beginning of the conflict, advocates of greater U.S. military involvement have tried to promote the myth of “U.S. inaction in Syria.”

Even after U.S. media disclosed the existence of a CIA weapons supply and training program in summer 2012, efforts to promote this myth continued unabated.

In early 2013, about eight months after The Washington Post first reported that the United States is coordinating the flow of weapons to the so-called “Syrian rebels,”[3] the editorial board of The Washington Post warned of the “consequences of U.S. inaction in Syria,” accusing the Obama administration of not doing enough to support the “rebels.”[4]

Neither The Washington Post nor any other major media outlet in the United States has been willing to publicize the true extent of U.S. covert operations in Syria, which started as early as April-May 2011.[5]

From the very beginning, U.S. policy sought to decisively influence the tactical situation on the ground in favor of the foreign-backed anti-Assad opposition. But instead of exposing the U.S.-led war on Syria, the media has been feeding into the false narrative of “U.S. inaction in Syria.”

Referring to this narrative, Allen and Lister call for accelerating and broadening the provision of lethal and nonlethal assistance to “vetted moderate opposition groups.”[6]

The United States’ vetting process of militias plays a central role in all of Lister’s policy proposals.[7] What Lister fails to mention is that this vetting process consists of nothing more than trace searches in old databases and half-hearted interviews. U.S. Special Forces soldiers on the ground in Turkey and Jordan told SOFREP that many “rebels” had sympathies with terrorist groups but knew exactly how to sell themselves during such interviews.[8]

As U.S. Special Forces soldiers on the ground voice their indignation over a mission that nobody believes in because they are just training the next generation of jihadis, Allen and Lister want to increase U.S. assistance to “vetted” groups in order to “save Aleppo,” which has become the focal point of the Syrian conflict:

“For a start, the United States must save Aleppo. Damascus, Moscow and Tehran are razing the city to prepare for an eventual ground assault. As both the CIA and Pentagon have concluded, an opposition loss in Aleppo would severely undermine the United States’ counterterrorism objectives in Syria. The city’s symbolism and strategic value are unmatched, and allowing it to fall would dramatically empower extremist narratives. Groups linked to al-Qaeda would reap the rewards of our shortcomings.”[9]

At the beginning of October, just hours after the U.S. suspended talks with Russia over Syria, The Washington Post reported that the CIA and the Joint Chiefs of Staff are pressuring President Obama to approve “kinetic actions” against Syrian government forces, arguing that an opposition loss in Aleppo “would undermine America’s counterterrorism goals in Syria.”[10]

Given the fact that the opposition in “rebel-held” eastern Aleppo is led by Jabhat al-Nusra, this argument seems rather dubious.[11] Despite rebranding itself as “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham” and supposedly cutting its ties with al-Qaeda, the group is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. Another group present in eastern Aleppo, Ahrar al-Sham, is also closely tied to al-Qaeda.[12]

It is not exactly clear why “groups linked to al-Qaeda would reap the rewards” if groups linked to al-Qaeda are defeated in eastern Aleppo or why their defeat “would severely undermine the United States’ counterterrorism objectives in Syria.”

If Allen and Lister want to stop empowering extremist narratives, they could start by revising their portrayal of the battle of Aleppo and the Syrian conflict in general.

Nusra and its allies are not defending civilians in eastern Aleppo, as frequently claimed, but holding them hostage in order to maintain a foothold in the strategic city, which was invaded by “rebels” in summer 2012 after refusing to join the uprising.

As soon as Syrian government forces and their allies first managed to encircle the “rebel-held” areas of Aleppo in July of this year, they announced the opening of humanitarian passages for civilians and surrendering fighters. According to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), only “around 12 people managed to use the Bustan al-Qasr corridor before rebel groups reinforced security measures and prevented families from approaching the corridors.”[13]

Instead of telling the “rebel groups” in eastern Aleppo to stop holding civilians hostage, the United States and its allies supported a major offensive led and organized by al-Nusra to break the siege and “put some pressure back on Russia and Iran.”

One Western diplomat tried to play down the outside support, saying:

“The rebels’ problem has never been a lack of weapons. This was internally planned, and it succeeded not because of outside support but because Fatah al-Sham and the other jihadi groups are incredibly disciplined, with plenty of guys willing to blow themselves up at the front.”[14]

Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other involved groups referred to the Aleppo offensive as the “Ibrahim al-Youssef battle,” a reference to the Syrian army officer who led the Aleppo Artillery School Massacre in the late 1970s.

In June 1979, Ibrahim al-Youssef and members of a Muslim Brotherhood splinter group killed dozens of Alawite cadets after separating them from their Sunni colleagues. During the July-August Aleppo offensive, a spokesman for the Nusra-led forces said they would continue what Ibrahim al-Youssef had started and kill the Alawites.[15]

Ibrahim al-Youssef’s son Yasser is a political representative for the U.S.-vetted “rebel group” Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, which participates in the battle of Aleppo and lately joined the Nusra-led military alliance Jaish al-Fatah. Zinki is probably best known for beheading a child captive on camera. The group reportedly lost U.S. backing in August or September of last year and was in talks with the U.S. over the restoration of its support when the incriminating footage emerged.[16]

Yasser al-Youssef has become the media’s go-to-guy for information about the “rebels” in and around Aleppo. After the Syrian government and its Russian allies recently announced a unilateral cease-fire to allow civilians and surrendering fighters once again to leave eastern Aleppo, Agence France-Presse (AFP) quoted Yasser al-Youssef as saying that opposition fighters wanted “nothing to do” with the Russian initiative and asking: “Who are they to decide to displace the Syrian people who rebelled against the dictator Assad?”[17]

Meanwhile, the Associated Press (AP) quoted Zinki’s al-Youssef as saying that the opposition had agreed to the initiative to evacuate wounded and allow in aid. According to al-Youssef, the evacuations didn’t materialize because the Syrian government and Russia gave no assurances the wounded would not face arrest.[18]

As both sides were blaming each other for the breakdown, Western journalists on the ground confirmed that “rebels” were firing on the checkpoints and exit corridors, making it extremely dangerous for anyone to leave eastern Aleppo.[19]

When Allen and Lister say “the United States must save Aleppo,” they are not referring to the civilians in eastern Aleppo who are being held hostage by the “rebels” or to the civilians in western Aleppo who are being killed by indiscriminate “rebel” shelling. They are referring to al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham, Zinki and other “rebel groups” in eastern Aleppo.

On the same day the Allen-Lister op-ed was published, Lister gleefully announced on Twitter that Ahrar al-Sham, Zinki and allied militias are preparing another offensive to break the siege of Aleppo. Nusra will of course join the fight, but “the impetus and most of the planning for this offensive largely excluded” the terrorist group, as the PR disaster during the July-August offensive is still fresh on everyone’s mind. “Regional states have provided substantial support to buttress the offensive,” according to Lister.[20]

U.S. allies Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar already provided substantial support to buttress the July-August Aleppo offensive – with the full blessing of the United States.[21] Washington’s primary objective was to put some pressure back on Russia and Iran, not to save civilians. As before, the new offensive is going to prompt an adequate response from Russia and its allies, thereby prolonging the suffering of civilians in Aleppo.

With current U.S. policy leading nowhere, the Obama administration is divided over Syria. Whereas the hawks around CIA director John Brennan and Defense Secretary Ashton Carter want to escalate the conflict, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are increasingly skeptical of such plans.

Obama is reportedly not willing to approve plans to supply CIA-vetted militias with more powerful weapons.

One senior U.S. official told The Washington Post that CIA-backed units are “not doing any better on the battlefield, they’re up against a more formidable adversary, and they’re increasingly dominated by extremists,” raising the question of whether the program can accomplish anything beyond adding to the carnage in Syria.[22]

The Lister-approved vetting process is apparently not working.

Moreover, the sceptics in the administration fear that the new weaponry could end up killing Russian military personnel and they want to avoid risking a confrontation with Russia.

But not everyone shares this opinion.

Due to his reluctance to escalate the conflict in Syria, Obama has alienated Washington’s foreign policy establishment, which favors more U.S. military action, including cruise missile strikes on Syrian government forces.[23]

That is also a key point of the Allen-Lister plan.

When The Washington Post first reported on U.S. plans to target Syrian government forces, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov stressed that Russian troops were now widely deployed across Syria, implying that any such attack would run the risk of killing Russian soldiers.[24]

Allen and Lister are of course aware of this risk. Explaining how to punish cease-fire violations by Syrian government forces with U.S. military action, they note in passing:

“We should expect the possible intentional co-mingling of Syrian and Russian forces and assets as a deterrent. While this may complicate targeting strategies, we should not miss the opportunity to hit offending Syrian elements and units, while sustaining counter-Islamic State operations elsewhere.”[25]

Neither Allen and Lister nor Washington’s foreign policy elite seem to mind risking a direct military confrontation with Russia. But President Obama and other sceptics in the administration don’t want to start World War III over Syria, as one senior administration official who is involved in Middle East policy emphasized:

“You can’t pretend you can go to war against Assad and not go to war against the Russians.”[26]

While the war party in Washington is waiting for Obama to leave office, Russia is preparing for a showdown in Syria with the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War.[27]

As Allen and Lister point out, the war party “cannot wait for a new administration in Washington” because “events are moving too quickly.”[28] They may have lost Aleppo by the time Hillary Clinton takes office.[28]

So Obama might have to deal with more “accidents,” such as the September 17 Deir Ezzor attack, during his last months as President of the United States.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

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[1] Charles Lister, Twitter, 22 December 2015: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/679221373810565120.

[2] John Allen and Charles R. Lister, “Bring Syria’s Assad and his backers to account now,” The Washington Post, 21 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/bring-syrias-assad-and-his-backers-to-account-now/2016/10/21/554b56ba-97a6-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html.

[3] Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, “Syrian rebels get influx of arms with gulf neighbors’ money, U.S. coordination,” The Washington Post, 15 May 2012: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/syrian-rebels-get-influx-of-arms-with-gulf-neighbors-money-us-coordination/2012/05/15/gIQAds2TSU_story.html.

[4] “Consequences of U.S. inaction in Syria are clear,” The Washington Post, 28 January 2013: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/consequences-of-us-inaction-in-syria-are-clear/2013/01/28/a03dad0e-6978-11e2-95b3-272d604a10a3_story.html.

[5] Sibel Edmonds, “BFP Syria Coverage Track Record: What & When We Exposed, and the MSM- Quasi Alternative Culprits Who Fought Our Exposés,” Boiling Frogs Post, 29 August 2013: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/08/29/bfp-syria-coverage-track-record-what-when-we-exposed-and-the-msm-quasi-alternative-culprits-who-fought-our-exposes/.

[6] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

[7] Charles Lister, “A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze, and Enforce,” War on the Rocks, 30 September 2016: http://warontherocks.com/2016/09/a-plan-for-winding-down-the-syrian-civil-war/.

[8] Jack Murphy, “US Special Forces sabotage White House policy gone disastrously wrong with covert ops in Syria,” SOFREP, 14 September 2016: https://sofrep.com/63764/us-special-forces-sabotage-white-house-policy-gone-disastrously-wrong-with-covert-ops-in-syria/.

[9] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

[10] Josh Rogin, “Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again,” The Washington Post, 4 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2016/10/04/obama-administration-considering-strikes-on-assad-again/.

[11] “Al-Qaeda Fighters In East-Aleppo (Defined) Down To Three!,” Moon of Alabama: http://www.moonofalabama.org/2016/10/number-of-al-qaeda-fighters-in-east-aleppo-defined-down-to-three.html.

[12] Christoph Germann, “Syria ‘Cease-Fire’ Brings U.S. & Russia Closer to War,” NewsBud, 10 October 2016: http://www.newsbud.com/2016/10/10/syria-cease-fire-brings-u-s-russia-closer-to-war/.

[13] “Calls grow for Syria government to end Aleppo siege,” Agence France-Presse, 29 July 2016: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2016/Jul-29/364570-calls-grow-for-syria-government-to-end-aleppo-siege.ashx.

[14] Erika Solomon, “Outside help behind rebel advances in Aleppo,” Financial Times, 8 August 2016: https://www.ft.com/content/da076830-5d77-11e6-a72a-bd4bf1198c63.

[15] Hassan Hassan, “The tale of two victories against Syria's worst killers,” The National, 15 August 2016: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/the-tale-of-two-victories-against-syrias-worst-killers.

[16] Sam Heller, “In Syrian Proxy War, America Can Keep Its Hands Clean or It Can Get Things Done,” The Century Foundation, 17 August 2016: https://tcf.org/content/commentary/syrian-proxy-war-america-can-keep-hands-clean-can-get-things-done/.

[17] “UN to begin evacuations from Aleppo if truce holds,” Agence France-Presse, 21 October 2016: http://tribune.com.pk/story/1205307/un-begin-evacuations-aleppo-truce-holds/.

[18] “Evacuations From Aleppo Fail to Materialize Despite Lull,” The Associated Press, 21 October 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/10/21/world/middleeast/ap-ml-syria.html.

[19] “Gunfire intensifies in Aleppo despite ceasefire,” ITV News, 20 October 2016: http://www.itv.com/news/2016-10-20/itv-news-witnesses-fierce-gunfight-in-aleppo-despite-ceasefire/.

[20] Charles Lister, Twitter, 21 October 2016: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/789461220331958272.

[21] Ibid., Solomon.

[22] Greg Miller and Adam Entous, “Plans to send heavier weapons to CIA-backed rebels in Syria stall amid White House skepticism,” The Washington Post, 23 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/plans-to-send-heavier-weapons-to-cia-backed-rebels-in-syria-stall-amid-white-house-skepticism/2016/10/23/f166ddac-96ee-11e6-bb29-bf2701dbe0a3_story.html.

[23] Greg Jaffe, “Washington’s foreign policy elite breaks with Obama over Syrian bloodshed,” The Washington Post, 20 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/washington-foreign-policy-elites-not-sorry-to-see-obama-go/2016/10/20/bd2334a2-9228-11e6-9c52-0b10449e33c4_story.html.

[24] Ibid., Germann.

[25] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

[26] Ibid., Jaffe.

[27] Robin Emmott, “Major Russian naval deployment to intensify Aleppo assault: NATO diplomat,” Reuters, 19 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-nato-idUSKCN12J2C6.

[28] Ibid., Allen and Lister.

The Jaber al-Bakr Story: How a White Helmets Volunteer Almost Blew Up Berlin Airport

Chemnitz Terror Plot Turns the Spotlight on NATO’s Terrorist Breeding Ground in ‘Rebel-Held’ Syria

The two-day manhunt, spectacular arrest and shocking death of a Syrian terrorism suspect in Germany have attracted a lot of attention and raised a lot of questions.

On October 8, German police raided an apartment in the eastern city of Chemnitz after being tipped off by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. They found 1.5 kilograms of TATP, the explosive of choice for ISIS terrorists, but the target of the raid, a 22-year-old Syrian refugee named Jaber al-Bakr, managed to escape.

Three alleged associates of al-Bakr were detained in connection with the raid, two of whom were later released. A 33-year-old Syrian refugee, identified only as Khalil A., remains in custody. Kahlil A. was renting the Chemnitz apartment where al-Bakr was staying. He is accused of allowing al-Bakr to use his apartment and of ordering bomb-making materials for him online. Security sources referred to the apartment as “a virtual bomb-making lab.”[1]

After the botched raid on Saturday, German police immediately launched a nationwide manhunt for al-Bakr.

On Sunday evening, three Syrians contacted police in the city of Leipzig, about an hour’s drive from Chemnitz, and informed them that they had captured the wanted suspect.

36-year-old Syrian refugee Mohamed A. later told German media that he and two of his friends had picked up al-Bakr at Leipzig main station after he sent out a request via a Syrian refugee online network for a place to stay. When they noticed that a manhunt for al-Bakr was underway, they decided to tie him up and informed the police.

At 0:42 a.m. local time on Monday, special police forces entered the apartment in Leipzig and found the terrorism suspect tied up.

Mohamed A. and his friends were hailed as heroes by German politicians and media. Some politicians even called for awarding them the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany’s highest civilian honor.[2]

Jaber al-Bakr, on the other hand, told investigators during his interrogation that the three Syrians from Leipzig were involved in the planning of the attack.[3] A few hours later, the most important witness in the case was dead.

Al-Bakr was found hanged in his jail cell at 7:45 p.m. on Wednesday. He had been held in solitary confinement at Leipzig prison since his arrest on Monday. Wardens initially checked on him every 15 minutes. This interval was extended on Wednesday afternoon to every 30 minutes. During the last regular check-in at 7:30 p.m., al-Bakr was still alive. When a trainee guard decided 15 minutes later to check again, she found him hanging from the bars of his cell with his T-shirt. Attempts to revive al-Bakr were unsuccessful and at 8:15 p.m. he was declared dead.

His defense lawyer, Alexander Hübner, accused the authorities of a "justice scandal" and stressed that al-Bakr's suicidal tendencies had been well documented. Hübner pointed out that his client went on hunger strike directly after his arrest on Monday.[4]

One day before his apparent suicide, al-Bakr had already pulled a lamp in the cell out of its fitting and tampered with power sockets. Prison authorities dismissed it as vandalism.[5] The suspected would-be suicide bomber was not classified as an “acute suicide risk.”[6]

Thomas Oppermann, the parliamentary group leader of the Social Democrats (SPD), described the al-Bakr story as an “unprecedented sequence of failures by the police and judicial system."[7]

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere demanded a “rapid and comprehensive inquiry” and stressed that al-Bakr's death had made the task of investigating the possible Berlin airport bomb plot much harder.[8]

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency said that al-Bakr initially wanted to target trains in Germany before finally deciding on one of Berlin’s airports.[9] The agency believes that the attack was planned for this week.[10]

The information came from U.S. intelligence, which had tapped phone calls between al-Bakr and an ISIS member in Syria. In a call on October 7, al-Bakr reportedly told his contact in Syria that 2 kilograms of explosives were ready and that a "big airport in Berlin" was "better than trains." According to German security sources, al-Bakr had already spent a night in the German capital during the second half of September to spy out Berlin Tegel Airport.[11]

Jaber al-Bakr was born on January 10, 1994 in Sa’sa’, south of Damascus. He left Syria in 2014 and arrived in Germany in February 2015, receiving asylum in June 2015.

Al-Bakr’s family and former roommates confirmed that he traveled at least twice to Turkey after arriving in Germany. During these trips, al-Bakr also spent a lot of time in Syria. One of his former roommates recalled talking to him over the phone while he was in the northwestern city of Idlib.

According to his roommates, al-Bakr was never particularly religious, but after returning from Turkey, he changed radically. His 18-year-old brother, who is living in Syria, said in a live chat with Germany’s Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk (MDR) that someone must have brainwashed or manipulated Jaber.[12]

The suspect’s 31-year-old brother Alaa al-Bakr told Der Spiegel by phone from Sa’sa’ that Jaber first returned to Syria via Turkey in September 2015 and then joined ISIS in Raqqa.[13]

In an interview with Reuters, Alaa said he believed imams in Berlin brainwashed Jaber into returning to Syria for jihad. According to his older brother, Jaber explained his trip to Syria earlier this year by saying that he wanted to volunteer with the White Helmets: “He went to Turkey seven months ago and spent two months in Syria. He called us and told us 'I'm volunteering with the White Helmets (emergency teams) in Idlib'.”[14]

Jaber also mentioned that he was with Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib and doing "humanitarian aid work."[15]

When Alaa talked to his brother two months ago, Jaber said that he was in Idlib and asked him how to get back to Germany. “He asked me if there was a way to go back to Germany but he had burned his documents,” Alaa told The Wall Street Journal, adding that he didn’t know his brother got back.[16]

Jaber al-Bakr’s Facebook page indicates that he sympathized with ISIS since at least January 2016. According to investigators, al-Bakr returned from Turkey at the end of August after spending several months abroad. Shortly thereafter, he caught the attention of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency.[17]

If Alaa al-Bakr’s account is accurate and his brother Jaber was able to travel between Germany and Syria at will, possibly without documents, authorities in Turkey and Germany have a lot to answer for.

Even more explosive is the revelation that Jaber al-Bakr spent a lot of time in Idlib, supposedly volunteering with the NATO-funded White Helmets, working with NATO-backed Ahrar al-Sham and doing “humanitarian aid work,” while becoming a bomb-making ISIS terrorist.

In contrast to the city of Raqqa, Idlib is not an ISIS stronghold. The northwestern province of Idlib and its provincial capital of the same name are “rebel-held” territory, at least according to Western governments and media.

Idlib province is reportedly roughly divided into areas controlled by Jabhat al-Nusra, areas controlled by Ahrar al-Sham, and areas where they share control.[18]

Al-Nusra was until recently the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda and is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations. Ahrar al-Sham, on the other hand, enjoys the support of the U.S. and its allies and is being protected from the terrorist label despite its close ties to al-Qaeda and other designated terrorist organizations.[19]

In March 2015, the military alliance “Jaish al-Fatah” (“Army of Conquest”), led by al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, seized Idlib city from government forces. Idlib was only the second provincial capital to be captured from the government since the start of the conflict, the other one being Raqqa.

The attack on Idlib city had been planned for months. In November 2014, NATO member Turkey and close U.S. ally Qatar began providing increased logistical and military support to Ahrar al-Sham and several other factions active in northwestern Syria, thereby enabling Jaish al-Fatah’s series of victories in spring 2015.[20]

When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was later asked about the fall of Idlib, he emphasized that “the main factor was the huge support that came through Turkey; logistic support, and military support, and of course financial support that came through Saudi Arabia and Qatar."[21]

Needless to say, all of this constituted a clear violation of international law.

The process that followed Jaish al-Fatah’s takeover of Idlib province has been described as the “Talibanization of Idlib.” As Joshua Landis and Steven Simon noted, “rebel-held” Idlib doesn’t present an attractive or viable alternative to government-held Syria, quite the contrary:

“Schools have been segregated, women forced to wear veils, and posters of Osama bin Laden hung on the walls. Government offices were looted, and a more effective government has yet to take shape. With the Talibanization of Idlib, the 100-plus Christian families of the city fled. The few Druze villages that remained have been forced to denounce their religion and embrace Islam; some of their shrines have been blown up. No religious minorities remain in rebel-held Syria, in Idlib, or elsewhere.”[22]

When Jaber al-Bakr traveled to Idlib earlier this year, he traveled to a city where youths are being publicly flogged for accompanying girls in public or exchanging “indecent pictures.”[23]

“Rebel-held” Idlib is a place where terrorist groups like al-Nusra and the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), which are accused of organizing terrorist attacks abroad,[24] can do as they please while enjoying NATO protection due to their “intermingling” with Ahrar al-Sham and other so-called “moderate opposition forces.”

It is not hard to imagine how spending time in Idlib could have contributed to al-Bakr’s radicalization. More difficult to answer is what an ISIS member was doing in Idlib and if he really worked with Ahrar al-Sham and volunteered with the White Helmets.

If Jaber al-Jabkr was a White Helmet “rescue worker,” this would add to the growing evidence that there is no clear line between the self-described “unarmed und neutral rescue workers” and combatants - or even members of designated terrorist organizations.

The White Helmets are not a legitimate Syrian Civil Defense group, as Western governments and media would have you believe.[25]

The White Helmets are a propaganda tool funded by the same governments that are funding the armed opposition in Syria. The U.S. and its NATO allies have provided millions of dollars to the White Helmets while trying to shield themselves from the obvious threat posed by members of the group. When White Helmets leader Raed Saleh was denied entry into the U.S. earlier this year, State Department spokesman Mark Toner explained it as follows:

“And any individual – again, I’m broadening my language here for specific reasons, but any individual in any group suspected of ties or relations with extremist groups or that we had believed to be a security threat to the United States, we would act accordingly. But that does not, by extension, mean we condemn or would cut off ties to the group for which that individual works for.”[26]

After the Germany’s Foreign Ministry “recently increased its financial contribution by two million euros to a total of seven million euros for this year,” the German authorities would be well advised to rethink their support of the White Helmets in light of the al-Bakr revelations.[27]

The story of Jaber al-Bakr provides more evidence that the NATO-funded White Helmets serve as a cover for extremists and that “rebel-held” Idlib is turning into a terrorist breeding ground, similar to Afghanistan under Taliban rule. This terrorist breeding ground is being fostered by NATO members and their GCC allies - and innocent people in Syria, Germany and elsewhere are going to pay the price for that.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] “Germany manhunt: 'IS link' to bomb suspect Al-Bakr – police,” BBC, 10 October 2016:  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37604247.

[2] Madeline Chambers, “Germans say ‘hero refugees’ deserve medals for tying up suspected bomber,” Reuters, 12 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomb-migrants-idUSKCN12C18B.

[3] “Al-Bakr beschuldigt Leipziger Syrer des Mitwissertums,” Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, 12 October 2016: http://www.mdr.de/sachsen/leipzig/al-bakr-beschuldigt-syrer-aus-leipzig-des-mitwissertums-100.html.

[4] Michael Nienaber and Paul Carrel, “Germany aghast after Syrian bomb suspect kills himself in jail,” Reuters, 13 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomb-suspect-suicide-idUSKCN12C2K6.

[5] Johannes Graf, “Suizid trotz Vorschriften: Die letzten Tage des Jaber Al-Bakr,” n-tv, 13 October 2016: http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Die-letzten-Tage-des-Jaber-Al-Bakr-article18851046.html.

[6] Ben Knight, “Terror suspect Albakr not classified as 'acute suicide risk' before Leipzig jail death,” Deutsche Welle, 13 October 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/terror-suspect-albakr-not-classified-as-acute-suicide-risk-before-leipzig-jail-death/a-36030348.

[7] Ibid., Nienaber and Carrel.

[8] “German terror suspect Jaber al-Bakr's jail death a scandal, says lawyer,” BBC, 13 October 2016: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37641263.

[9] “IS bomb suspect planned to target Berlin airport: official,” Deutsche Welle, 11 October 2016: http://www.dw.com/en/is-bomb-suspect-planned-to-target-berlin-airport-official/a-36010910.

[10] “Justizminister: Keine akute Selbstmordgefahr bei Albakr,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 13 October 2016: http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/suizid-von-jaber-al-bakr-anwalt-kritisiert-saechsische-justiz-14478174.html.

[11] Michelle Martin, “Syrian bombing suspect in Germany spoke to IS contact about attack plans: newspaper,” Reuters, 15 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomb-suspect-idUSKBN12F07R.

[12] “Terrorverdächtiger Syrer sympathisierte mit IS,” Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, 12 October 2016: http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/politik/inland/Terrorverdaechtiger-hatte-facebook-kontakt-zu-is-100.html.

[13] “Albakr soll sich in Deutschland radikalisiert haben,” Spiegel Online, 14 October 2016: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/jaber-albakr-soll-sich-in-deutschland-radikalisiert-haben-a-1116645.html.

[14] Joseph Nasr, “Berlin bombing suspect radicalized by imams in Germany, brother says,” Reuters, 14 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-bomber-idUSKBN12E2ET.

[15] Eva Marie Kogel, “„Die Polizei hat meinen Bruder umgebracht“,” Welt, 15 October 2016: https://www.welt.de/print/die_welt/politik/article158777693/Die-Polizei-hat-meinen-Bruder-umgebracht.html.

[16] Ruth Bender and Mohammad Nour Alakraa, “Terror Suspect Found Dead in German Jail Cell Had Traveled to Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, 13 October 2016: http://www.wsj.com/articles/terror-suspect-found-dead-in-german-jail-cell-had-traveled-to-syria-1476375285.

[17] Florian Flade, Annelie Naumann, “Die mysteriöse Türkei-Reise des Dschaber al-Bakr,” Welt, 12 October 2016: https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article158688067/Die-mysterioese-Tuerkei-Reise-des-Dschaber-al-Bakr.html.

[18] Sam Heller, “The Home of Syria’s Only Real Rebels,” The Daily Beast, 17 June 2016: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/17/the-home-of-syria-s-only-real-rebels.html.

[19] Christoph Germann, “Syria ‘Cease-Fire’ Brings U.S. & Russia Closer to War,” NewsBud, 10 October 2016: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2016/10/10/syria-cease-fire-brings-u-s-russia-closer-to-war/.

[20] Charles Lister, The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (London: C. Hurst & Co., 2015).

[21] Tom Perry, Humeyra Pamuk and Ahmed Tolba, “Assad says Turkish support 'main factor' in Idlib takeover,” Reuters, 17 April 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-assad-idUSKBN0N80N820150417.

[22] Joshua Landis and Steven Simon, “Assad Has It His Way,” Foreign Affairs, 19 January 2016: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2016-01-19/assad-has-it-his-way.

[23] Ullin Hope, “Idlib youths flogged for unsanctioned contact with girls,” NOW, 22 January 2016: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566524-idlib-youths-flogged-for-unsanctioned-contact-with-girls.

[24] Olga Dzyubenko, “Kyrgyzstan says Uighur militant groups behind attack on China's embassy,” Reuters, 7 September 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kyrgyzstan-blast-china-idUSKCN11C1DK.

[25] Vanessa Beeley, “EXCLUSIVE: The REAL Syria Civil Defence Exposes Fake ‘White Helmets’ as Terrorist-Linked Imposters,” 21st Century Wire, 23 September 2016: http://21stcenturywire.com/2016/09/23/exclusive-the-real-syria-civil-defence-expose-natos-white-helmets-as-terrorist-linked-imposters/.

[26] Mark Toner, U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing, 27 April 2016: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/04/256667.htm.

[27] Federal Foreign Office, “Federal Foreign Office to support Syrian White Helmets with seven million euros, Press release, 23 September 2016: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/Infoservice/Presse/Meldungen/2016/160923_Weisshelme.html.

 

Syria ‘Cease-Fire’ Brings U.S. & Russia Closer to War

Russia Ramps Up Military Presence in Syria to Deter U.S. Attack

On October 3, the United States announced that it is suspending talks with Russia over the conflict in Syria, accusing Moscow of not living up to its commitments under the September 9 cease-fire agreement as well as its obligations under international humanitarian law and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254.[1]

When the U.S. State Department was asked, if the U.S. had lived up to its obligations, State Department Press Director Elizabeth Trudeau responded: “We believe we did.”[2]

In resolution 2254, the UN Security Council reiterated “its call in resolution 2249 (2015) for Member States to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as Da’esh), Al-Nusra Front (ANF), and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al Qaeda or ISIL, and other terrorist groups, as designated by the Security Council.”[3]

In July of this year, the Al-Nusra Front rebranded itself as “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham” and supposedly cut its ties with “al-Qaeda” – with the blessing of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – in an ill-fated attempt to rid itself of the terrorist label. Although the recent “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham” promotion campaign in Western media suggests otherwise, the United States and the United Nations still consider it a terrorist group.

Since the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2254 in December 2015, Russia has repeatedly accused the U.S. of protecting al-Nusra and not living up to its commitment to separate U.S.-backed “opposition forces” from Nusra terrorists.[4]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry conceded early on that it “has proven harder to separate them than we thought.”[5]

But the simple truth is that separating them is almost impossible, as SOFREP’s Jack Murphy recently pointed out:

“Distinguishing between the FSA and al-Nusra is impossible, because they are virtually the same organization. As early as 2013, FSA commanders were defecting with their entire units to join al-Nusra. There, they still retain the FSA monicker, but it is merely for show, to give the appearance of secularism so they can maintain access to weaponry provided by the CIA and Saudi intelligence services. The reality is that the FSA is little more than a cover for the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.”[6]

The so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) is not the only NATO-GCC-backed group that is little more than a cover for terrorist organizations.

A former CIA officer told SOFREP that the CIA has tracked al-Qaeda operatives from Pakistan’s federally administered tribal areas traveling to Syria and joining Ahrar al-Sham, one of the most important opposition groups in Syria and Nusra’s main partner.[7]

If true, the United States would have to explain why it blocked a Russian proposal at the United Nations earlier this year to backlist Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam for links to ISIS and al-Qaeda.[8]

Ahrar al-Sham and its Western supporters have long sought to downplay the group’s organizational ties to al-Qaeda. Given the fact that longtime al-Qaeda operative Abu Khalid al-Suri was one of Ahrar al-Sham’s founding members and senior leaders, this proved to be somewhat difficult.[9] A few weeks before al-Suri’s death in February 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department described him as “al-Qa'ida's representative in Syria.”[10]

At the same time, Western analysts touted Ahrar al-Sham as “an al Qaeda-linked group worth befriending” and warned that “designating Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist group would destroy what little chance the United States has of building relationships with the other militias in the Islamic Front.”[11]

Designating Ahrar al-Sham as a terrorist organization would also reflect badly on NATO member Turkey, which has been providing arms and training to the group.[12]

By blocking Russia’s attempt to blacklist Ahrar al-Sham in May of this year, the U.S. and its allies protected one of their most important assets in Syria. Moreover, they enabled Nusra’s main battlefield ally to sabotage any future cease-fire deals and efforts to come to a diplomatic solution, as the group has been doing in the past.[13]

On September 9, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov announced a breakthrough agreement on Syria. As part of the deal, the United States agreed to join forces with Russia in the fight against Jabhat al-Nusra. Both sides set out a clear timetable for drawing up targets and separating “moderate opposition forces” from Nusra.[14] It’s important to note that previous cease-fire deals failed primarily because separating them proved to be impossible.

On September 11, one day before the September 9 cease-fire agreement was due to come into force, Ahrar al-Sham came to Nusra’s defense and rejected the deal.[15] Shortly thereafter, a senior Ahrar al-Sham official confirmed that the group has been holding talks with Nusra and other factions about a merger “to unify the factions on the battlefield.”[16]

In other words, a U.S.-backed “moderate opposition group” sabotaged the U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement as soon as it was announced and tried to merge with Nusra instead of distancing itself from the designated terrorist organization.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon also joined the various forces seeking to derail the agreement and openly challenged the deal.[17] This didn’t go unnoticed in Moscow.

On September 15, The Washington Post announced that the Pentagon “grudgingly accepts” the Syria deal, noting that “Pentagon officials acknowledged widespread concern that Russia will not live up to its end of the deal, and they fear that the U.S. military will be blamed for problems or the failure of an initiative it does not fully support.”[18]

Two days later, on September 17, the U.S. military and its “anti-ISIL coalition” partners launched a major attack on the well-known Syrian government positions on al-Tharda Mountain near Deir Ezzor Airport. The attack, which U.S. Secretary of State Kerry later described as a “terrible accident,”[19] lasted one hour and reportedly killed more than 100 Syrian soldiers.[20]

The Syrian government and its Russian allies didn’t believe that this could have been a “terrible accident” and interpreted the attack as a message from the war party in Washington.

Last week, a Russian Defense Ministry source told Kommersant that Russia began shipping one of its S-300V4 anti-ballistic missile systems to Tartus a few days after the Deir Ezzor attack. According to the source, the system was not shipped in over the first October weekend as Fox News and other U.S. media outlets have been reporting but over the past two weeks.[21]

After U.S.-backed “moderate opposition forces” and the Pentagon had undermined the September 9 cease-fire agreement from the beginning, the Kremlin realized on September 17 that the Obama administration is not to be trusted and that a military solution to the conflict is more likely than a diplomatic solution.

As a consequence, Russia was preparing for U.S. military action in Syria already two weeks before Washington suspended talks with Moscow and reports about U.S. plans to strike Assad emerged.

One day after the suspension of talks, The Washington Post reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the CIA are pressuring President Obama to approve “kinetic actions” against Syrian government forces. One administration official told The Post that the options under consideration include “bombing Syrian air force runways using cruise missiles and other long-range weapons fired from coalition planes and ships.”[22]

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said during a recent interview with TV channel Dozhd that the S-300 system was sent to Syria “after experts close to the American establishment had started leaking information…that the US could hit Syrian airfields with cruise missiles.”[23] It is not entirely whether Zakharova was referring to the report by The Washington Post or other leaks.

If Kommersant’s Defense Ministry source is telling the truth, the decision to send the anti-ballistic missile system to Syria was taken at least two weeks before The Washington Post disclosed U.S. plans to hit Syrian airfields with cruise missiles.

The deployment of Russia’s S-300V4 system complicates these plans. As The Wall Street Journal noted, the system “could impose significant restrictions on U.S. military action in Syria, since it can target cruise and ballistic missiles as well as aircraft.”[24]

Charles Lister, the go-to expert for regime change advocates, was rather unimpressed and dismissed Russia’s missile systems as “entirely suppressible.” Lister emphasized that “Russia has *nothing* that could concretely prevent US military action in Syria.”[25]

As other analysts have explained, the question is not whether Russia can prevent U.S. military action in Syria but whether Moscow will decide to back down or to retaliate.[26]

Russia’s military build-up in and around Syria and recent comments by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov indicate that Russia is not going to abandon its Syrian allies without a fight.

Konashenkov strongly warned the United States against striking Syrian government forces and stressed that Russia would target any unidentified aircraft attacking Syrian government targets. He pointed out that Russian troops were now widely deployed across Syria, implying that any such attack would run the risk of killing Russian soldiers. In reference to the U.S.-led attack near Deir Ezzor on September 17, Konashenkov said: “We have taken all the necessary measures to prevent any such ‘mistakes’ with regard to Russian servicemen and military facilities in Syria.”[27]

On September 30, Russian media reported that Russia has reinforced its Hmeymim Air Base in Syria with a group of Su-24 and Su-34 bombers and is preparing to send Su-25 ground attack aircraft to Hmeymim.[28]

Furthermore, three missile corvettes of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet have left their base in Sevastopol in recent days to join Russia’s permanent naval task force in the Mediterranean and assist in military operations in Syria.[29]

Reuters described the military build-up as “Russia's biggest military deployment to Syria” since the partial withdrawal of Russian forces in March.[30]

Moscow always knew that the September 9 cease-fire agreement was doomed to fail. To this day, the United States and its allies haven’t provided any proof that they are able or willing to separate their “moderate opposition forces” from Nusra and other designated terrorist groups. Nevertheless, the Kremlin has long tried to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict. The September 9 deal may turn out to be Moscow’s last attempt to do so.

As usual, Western governments and media are blaming Russia for the failure of the latest cease-fire deal and the suspension of talks. Russia’s alleged attack on a UN aid convoy on September 19 received widespread attention, whereas the U.S-led attack on Syrian government forces near Deir Ezzor two days earlier was immediately written off as a mistake.

But from Moscow’s point of view, the Deir Ezzor attack proved beyond doubt that all diplomatic efforts are futile and that Russia must begin working towards a military solution in Syria, thereby making a direct military confrontation between Russia and the United States ever more likely.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] U.S. Department of State, “Suspension of Participation in Bilateral Channels With Russia Established to Sustain the Cessation of Hostilities in Syria,” Press Statement, 3 October 2016: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/10/262704.htm.

[2] Elizabeth Trudeau, U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing, 3 October 2016: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/dpb/2016/10/262717.htm.

[3] United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254, 18 December 2015: http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/sc12171.doc.htm.

[4] Vladimir Isachenkov, “US asks Russia to not hit Nusra Front in Syria, Moscow says,” The Associated Press, 3 June 2016: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d5682585f9ef460aa0eb8b5d41d8a0ae/us-asks-russia-not-hit-nusra-front-syria-moscow-says.

[5] Peter S. Goodman, “Russian Military Buildup Near Aleppo, Syria, Threatens Truce, Kerry Warns,” The New York Times, 22 April 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/23/world/middleeast/russian-military-buildup-near-aleppo-threatens-truce-kerry-warns.html.

[6] Jack Murphy, “US Special Forces sabotage White House policy gone disastrously wrong with covert ops in Syria, SOFREP, 14 September 2016: https://sofrep.com/63764/us-special-forces-sabotage-white-house-policy-gone-disastrously-wrong-with-covert-ops-in-syria/.

[7] Jack Murphy, “Meet America’s think-tank fellows who support jihad,” SOFREP, 6 October 2016: https://sofrep.com/65217/meet-americas-think-tank-fellows-who-support-jihad/.

[8] Michelle Nichols, “U.S., Britain, France block Russia bid to blacklist Syria rebels,” Reuters, 11 May 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-sanctions-idUSKCN0Y22F8.

[9] Aron Lund, “Who and What Was Abu Khalid al-Suri? Part I,” Carnegie Middle East Center, 24 February 2014: http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/54618.

[10] U.S. Department of the Treasury, “Treasury Designates Al-Qa’ida Supporters in Qatar and Yemen,” Press Release, 18 December 2013: https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2249.aspx.

[11] Michael Doran, William McCants and Clint Watts, “The Good and Bad of Ahrar al-Sham,” Foreign Affairs, 23 January 2014: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2014-01-23/good-and-bad-ahrar-al-sham.

[12] Ibid., Murphy, 14 September 2016.

[13] Sylvia Westall, “Syria armed group Ahrar al-Sham quits Riyadh conference,” Reuters, 10 December 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ahrar-idUSKBN0TT1YJ20151210.

[14] “AP EXCLUSIVE: Text of Syria cease-fire deal,” The Associated Press, 22 September 2016: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/f5428d60326c4394a1c95efcefad8d77/ap-exclusive-text-syria-cease-fire-deal.

[15] “Syrian rebels Ahrar al-Sham reject truce: group,” Agence France-Presse, 11 September 2016: https://www.yahoo.com/news/syrian-rebels-ahrar-al-sham-reject-truce-group-210734900.html.

[16] Bassem Mroue, “As Syria truce holds. al-Qaida affiliate denounces it,” The Associated Press, 13 September 2016: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/89d9f405957d47e0b408cfcada469e20/syria-cease-fire-holding-only-minor-violations-reported.

[17] Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, “Details of Syria Pact Widen Rift Between John Kerry and Pentagon,” The New York Times, 13 September 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-john-kerry.html.

[18] Karen DeYoung and Missy Ryan, “Pentagon grudgingly accepts Syria deal amid deep mistrust of Russia,” The Washington Post, 15 September 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-grudgingly-accepts-syria-deal-amid-deep-mistrust-of-russia/2016/09/15/e2ac735c-7a98-11e6-beac-57a4a412e93a_story.html.

[19] John Kerry, Remarks at the Council Session on Syria, United Nations Headquarters, 21 September 2016: https://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2016/09/262235.htm.

[20] Leith Fadel, “US Coalition knew they were bombing the Syrian Army in Deir Ezzor,” Al-Masdar News, 27 September 2016: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/us-coalition-knew-bombing-syrian-army-deir-ezzor/.

[21] Sergey Strokan, Maxim Yusin and Ivan Safronov, “События в Сирии приняли противовоздушный оборот,” Kommersant, 4 October 2016: http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3107368.

[22] Josh Rogin, “Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again,” The Washington Post, 4 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogin/wp/2016/10/04/obama-administration-considering-strikes-on-assad-again/.

[23] “Russia Placed S-300 Missiles in Syria After Learning of US Plan to Bomb Airbases,” Sputnik, 7 October 2016: https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20161007/1046118409/syria-s-300-deployment.html.

[24] “Putin Tightens His Grip on Syria,” The Wall Street Journal, 4 October 2016: http://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-tightens-his-grip-on-syria-1475611567.

[25] Charles Lister, Tweet 4 October 2016: https://twitter.com/Charles_Lister/status/783408687125671937.

[26] Dave Majumdar, “Why the United States Should Exercise Restraint Before Launching A New War in Syria,” The National Interest, 3 October 2016: http://nationalinterest.org/feature/why-the-united-states-should-exercise-restraint-before-17919.

[27] Vladimir Isachenkov, “Russia strongly warns US against striking Syrian army,” The Associated Press, 6 October 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/russia-strongly-warns-us-against-striking-syrian-army/2016/10/06/57d1621e-8bd8-11e6-8cdc-4fbb1973b506_story.html.

[28] Dmitry Solovyov, “Russia beefs up its air force in Syria: paper,” Reuters, 30 September 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKCN12018U?il=0.

[29] “3rd Russian Black Sea fleet ship leaves for Mediterranean to join anti-ISIS op,” Russia Today, 6 October 2016: https://www.rt.com/news/361827-third-ship-syria-op/.

[30] Jack Stubbs and Maria Tsvetkova, “Exclusive: Russia builds up forces in Syria, Reuters data analysis shows,” Reuters, 7 October 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-exclusive-idUSKCN1271YO.

 

Western-Backed Chechen “Freedom Fighter” Named as Istanbul Attack Mastermind

Meet Akhmed Chatayev: Freedom Fighter - Government Informant - Most Wanted Terrorist   

First details begin to emerge about the suspected Islamic State attack on Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport that left at least 44 people dead and more than 230 injured.

A senior Turkish government official announced on Thursday that the three suicide bombers who carried out the attack were nationals of Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.[1]

Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Safak quoted police as saying that eight terrorists were involved in the operation. Three of them were killed, one was detained and four others remain at large.

According to the Yeni Safak report, well-known Chechen Islamic State commander Akhmed Chatayev organized the deadly attack.[2]

Turkish officials did not immediately confirm Chatayev’s involvement but a Turkish police source with direct knowledge of the investigation told NBC News that Chatayev is believed to be the planner of the attack.[3]

Turkish police reportedly launched a manhunt to catch the Chechen terrorist leader.[4]

Western governments and media are now scrambling to explain why they dismissed Russian warnings about Chatayev and protected him for many years despite a long history of terrorism-related offenses.

Akhmed Chatayev first caught the Russian authorities’ attention when he was captured during the Second Chechen War in the late 1990s. Depending on whom you want to believe, Chatayev lost his right arm either due to a wound sustained during the fighting or as a result of torture after his arrest.

The circumstances of his release remain unclear, which prompted Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s The Interpreter to suggest that Chatayev might have been recruited as a Russian informer or agent.[5]

Judging by his actions upon release, this seems unlikely.

Chatayev left Russia in 2001 and found refuge in Azerbaijan,[6] like many other Chechen “freedom fighters.”[7]

This can be explained by the fact that Azerbaijan served as one main conduit for the U.S.-NATO-led ‘Gladio B’ operations in the region – the other main conduit being Turkey.[8]

The true extent of U.S.-NATO involvement in the Chechen struggle for independence is still a well-guarded secret but Chatayev’s story sheds some light on dubious Western machinations that have fueled terrorism in Russia and beyond.

In 2003, “Akhmed One-Arm” moved to Austria. He was granted asylum and received Austrian citizenship. While enjoying Austrian hospitality, Chatayev made extensive use of his new passport that “allowed him to travel freely in Europe and elsewhere.”

Russian media reports suggest that Chatayev was wanted by Russian authorities since 2003 on suspicion of recruiting fighters and raising funds for the North Caucasus insurgency. According to sources in Chechen Islamic groups, this task was assigned to him by none other than Caucasus Emirate leader Doku Umarov.[9]

Neither Chatayev’s close connection to Umarov nor his criminal activities seemed to bother anyone in the West. Russia repeatedly tried to get him extradited, to no avail.

In 2008, “Akhmed One-Arm” made headlines in Sweden. He was arrested and sentenced to 16 months in prison for smuggling an automatic weapon and two handguns with munition and silencers into the country. Chatayev had arrived by ferry boat from Germany along with two other Chechens. He told the Swedish authorities that they were on their way to Norway to go fishing and denied having any knowledge of the weapons hidden in a spare wheel in the trunk of his car. Chatayev was convicted in March 2008 and released in January 2009.[10]

A few months later he continued his tour through European prisons in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities arrested him at Russia’s request. Russia asked for Chatayev’s extradition but the European Court of Human Rights and Amnesty International intervened, reminding the Ukrainian government that the wanted terror suspect had been granted refugee status in Austria.[11]

Instead of enjoying life in Wien, Chatayev then got into trouble in Bulgaria. In summer 2011, he was detained at the Bulgarian border while attempting to cross into Turkey. A Bulgarian court decided to extradite him to Russia but Chatayev filed an appeal and played the refugee card – with success.[12]

Afterwards, Umarov’s trusted associate settled in Georgia, where he was offered a job by then-Deputy Interior Minister Giorgi Lortkipanidze due to his excellent connections to the North Caucasus insurgency.

In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Lortkipanidze did his best to obfuscate what really happened in Georgia and which role Chatayev played. He claimed that he recruited Chatayev as an informer and negotiator between the Georgian government and the Islamic underground of the North Caucasus to prevent terrorist attacks in Georgia.

Lortkipanidze told The Daily Beast that he was pleased with Chatayev’s work for more than a year until he refused to rat out a group of radical militants that was trying to cross from Georgia into Russia.[13]

Georgia’s former Deputy Interior Minister was referring to the so-called Lopota incident in August 2012, but for some reason he failed to mention that this incident exposed a secret government training program for Chechen fighters. An investigation into the clashes in the Lopota gorge by Public Defender Ucha Nanuashvili unearthed explosive information:

According to the report, in February 2012 senior officials from the Georgian Interior Ministry contacted some of “veterans of the Chechen war”, as well as representatives of Chechen community now living in Europe with the purpose to convince them that the Georgian authorities were ready to give armed militants “so called corridor”, a free passage for infiltrating into Russia’s North Caucasus via Georgia.

These efforts, according to the report, resulted into arrival from Europe of about 120 Chechens and other natives of the North Caucasus in Georgia.

“Flats were rented for them in various neighborhoods of Tbilisi, mainly in Saburtalo district,” the report reads, adding that the Interior Ministry officials were picking them up at Tbilisi airport and providing them with firearms and driving licenses.

Georgian military officials and “Chechen militants with large combat experience” trained the Chechen recruits at the Shavnabada and Vaziani military bases near Tbilisi. There is evidence to suggest that Akhmed Chatayev was involved in this secret program. Nanuashvili’s report named Lortkipanidze as having coordinated the recruitment and training, which explains why he didn’t tell The Daily Beast the whole truth about Chatayev’s work for the Georgian government.

According to Nanuashvili’s sources, the Chechens grew impatient because their training was taking longer than expected and demanded to be taken to the Russian border. But after arriving in the Lopota gorge, the fighters were prevented from entering Russia and told to surrender their arms before returning either to a military base or to Pankisi gorge.[14]

Chatayev was reportedly one of the “authoritative Chechen individuals” that were brought in to mediate after the Chechen fighters refused to lay down their arms. The talks yielded no results and Chatayev was injured during the ensuing fighting. Georgian security forces arrested him a few days later. His injured leg had to be amputated and he was charged with illegal possession of two hand grenades.

Russia asked once again for Chatayev’s extradition, with the same result as before. In December 2012, Chatayev was released on bail and the Georgian Prosecutor’s Office eventually dropped the charge against him one month later.[15]

Former President Mikheil Saakashvili and his United National Movement (UNM) seized upon this fact in the aftermath of the Istanbul airport attack to settle political scores.

Saakashvili emphasized that Chatayev was arrested by his government in a counter-terrorist operation led by Lortkipanidze, and lamented that, after a change of government, “the new Georgian government, led by Russian oligarch Ivanishvili, promptly freed him.”[16] The former Georgian leader failed to mention that his close associate Lortkipanidze was in charge of a secret government training program for Chechen fighters and that Chatayev had been working for him.

Lortkipanidze later escaped prosecution in Georgia for his role in the Lopota debacle by following his old boss Saakashvili to Ukraine.[17]

In addition to Chatayev, nine Chechen fighters survived the 2012 clashes. They were allowed to leave the country a few days later and the Georgian Interior Ministry assisted them in traveling to Turkey.[18]

Turkey is the preferred destination of many Chechen “freedom fighters,” and Chatayev was no exception.

According to Russian independent news agency Caucasian Knot, he lived in Turkey between 2012 and 2015. During this time, he came into direct contact with Islamic State commander Tarkhan Batirashvili – a man with a similar story.[19]

After serving as the Caucasus Emirate’s representative in Turkey, Chatayev reportedly joined IS in 2014.[20]

As early as January 2015, “a trustworthy source from Istanbul” told Georgian media that Chatayev was organizing the transit of young recruits from Georgia’s Pankisi gorge to Syria.[21]

One month later, Chatayev removed any last doubts about his activities by appearing in an IS video in Syria as the commander of the Yarmouk Battalion, a Chechen-led IS battalion of Russian-speaking jihadists.[22]

In August, Russian security services identified “One-Legged Akhmet” as the main recruiter of Russian nationals to the Islamic State.[23]

In October 2015, the U.S. government finally acted on the IS video from February and added Chatayev to its list of specially designated global terrorists.[24]

Within a few years, Chatayev had gone from working for the U.S.-backed Georgian government and enjoying protection in the West to becoming one of the most wanted terrorists - despite barely changing his behavior. The biggest difference was that his activities were no longer limited to Russia.

The fact that Akhmed Chatayev has now emerged at the center of the investigation into the Istanbul airport attack raises many inconvenient questions - and Western governments have a lot to answer for.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] Humeyra Pamuk and Daren Butler, “Istanbul airport bombers were Russian, Uzbek, Kyrgyz: Turkish official,” Reuters, 30 June 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-blast-raids-idUSKCN0ZG0RM.

[2] “Russian national identified as a suicide bomber in Istanbul airport attack,” Yeni Safak, 30 June 2016: http://www.yenisafak.com/en/news/russian-national-identified-as-a-suicide-bomber-in-istanbul-airport-attack-2488906.

[3] William M. Arkin, Mansur Mirovalev and Corky Siemaszko, “Chechen Akhmed Chatayev Is Called Suspected Planner of Istanbul Attack,” NBC News, 1 July 2016: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/istanbul-ataturk-airport-attack/chechen-akhmed-chatayev-called-suspected-planner-istanbul-attack-n602401.

[4] Dominique Soguel and Suzan Fraser, “Attention in Istanbul bombing focused on Chechen extremist,” The Associated Press, 1 July 2016: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/fad6ca6eda9142bead29b11b7b259981/turkish-official-mastermind-feb-terror-attack-killed.

[5] Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, “Russian Press Claims Alleged Mastermind of Istanbul Attacks Was Detained For Terrorism In Four Countries But Was Let Go,” The Interpreter, 30 June 2016: http://www.interpretermag.com/turkey-claims-airport-bombers-were-russian-uzbek-and-kyrgyz-georgian-ties-possible/#14408?pressId=14408.

[6] Nino Burchuladze, “‘Ahmed One-Arm’ - The man who sends Jihadists from Pankisi to Syria,” Georgian Journal, 31 January 2015: http://www.georgianjournal.ge/military/29509-ahmed-one-arm-the-man-who-sends-jihadists-from-pankisi-to-syria.html.

[7] Sibel Edmonds, “BFP Exclusive: US-NATO-Chechen Militia Joint Operations Base,” Boiling Frogs Post, 22 November 2011: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2011/11/22/bfp-exclusive-us-nato-chechen-militia-joint-operations-base/.

[8] Nafeez Ahmed, “Why was a Sunday Times report on US government ties to al-Qaeda chief spiked?,” Ceasefire Magazine, 17 May 2013: http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/whistleblower-al-qaeda-chief-u-s-asset/.

[9] Fatima Tlisova, “Chechen Suspected in Istanbul Attack, but Questions Remain,” Voice of America, 30 June 2016: http://www.voanews.com/content/chechen-suspected-istanbul-attack-questions-remain/3399309.html.

[10] “The Latest: Tunisian town buries doctor killed in Istanbul,” The Associated Press, 1 July 2016: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/fda76e4091a14140b0c30212f60139d0/latest-us-official-chechen-organized-airport-attack.

[11] “Ukraine: Ukraine obliged to halt extradition: Ahmed Chataev : Further information,” Amnesty International, 22 January 2010: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur50/002/2010/en/.

[12] “Bulgarian court refuses to hand over terror suspect to Russia,” Russia Today, 22 July 2011: https://www.rt.com/news/terror-suspect-denied-extradition/.

[13] Anna Nemtsova, “Mastermind of Istanbul Airport Attack Had Been Georgian Informant, Official Says,” The Daily Beast, 1 July 2016: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/01/mastermind-of-istanbul-airport-attack-had-been-georgian-informant-official-says.html.

[14] “Public Defender Calls on MPs to Probe into Lopota Armed Clash,” Civil Georgia, 1 April 2013: http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25911.

[15] Liz Fuller, “President Again Denies Georgia Co-Opted Chechen Fighters,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 28 April 2013: http://www.rferl.org/content/georgia-chechen-militants-allegations-saakashvili-denial/24970927.html.

[16] Mikheil Saakashvili, Facebook, 30 June 2016: https://www.facebook.com/SaakashviliMikheil/posts/1224494270914285.

[17] “New head of Odessa Police escapes prosecution in Georgia,” Caucasian Knot, 17 June 2015: http://eng.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/32068/.

[18] Ibid., Civil Georgia.

[19] Ibid., Tlisova.

[20] “Details of Atatürk Airport attack planner emerge,” Yeni Safak, 2 July 2016: http://www.yenisafak.com/en/news/details-of-ataturk-airport-attack-planner-emerge-2489718.

[21] Ibid., Burchuladze.

[22] Joanna Paraszczuk, “Russian Citizen Linked To Lopota Gorge Incident Now Heads IS Battalion In Syria,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 25 February 2015: http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-lopota-gorge-incident-islamic-state-syria/26869379.html.

[23] Joanna Paraszczuk, “Main Russian IS Recruiter 'Identified In Turkey,' But Who Is One-Legged Akhmet?,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 10 August 2015: http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-islamic-state-one-legged-akhmet-recruiter/27181197.html.

[24] “Treasury Sanctions Individuals Affiliated With Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Caucasus Emirate,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, 5 October 2015: https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0199.aspx.

Syrian Turkmens, Turkish Nationalists, Russian Jets & the Battle for Bayırbucak

Alleged killer of Russian pilot mourns MHP official killed by Russian airstrikes

Within hours after the first Russian airstrikes in Syria, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Western journalists began to explain why Russia’s intervention “is doomed to fail.”[1][2] A few days later, Western media gleefully announced that Russia’s intervention has failed.[3]

But four months into Russia’s Syria campaign, it is now becoming increasingly difficult to deny that the Kremlin is actually pursuing a viable military strategy in Syria. Therefore, Western media has recently resorted to explaining why it is a bad thing that the Russian airstrikes are working.[4]

Especially in terms of the situation on the Syrian-Turkish border, Russia’s intervention has been a game-changer. Thanks to Russian air support, Syria is able to exert control over parts of its own border for the first time in years.

Whereas Syrian aircraft refrained from conducting airstrikes close to the Turkish border for fear of being shot down,[5] Russian aircraft have not been deterred by Turkey’s efforts to protect its proxies in northern Syria.

Last November, Ankara summoned the Russian Ambassador and warned Moscow that the continued bombing of Syrian Turkmens “could lead to serious consequences.”[6]

Shortly thereafter, just as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was meeting with high-level Turkish officials to discuss the issue,[7] Turkish F-16s shot down a Russian jet over Latakia’s Turkmen-populated Bayırbucak region.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated, it is doubtful that NATO member Turkey made this momentous decision on its own.[8]

The Russian Sukhoi Su-24M bomber aircraft was ambushed on its way to a target about five miles south of the important Yayladagi border crossing that has been used by the Turks to slip jihadists into Syria. The Syrian Turkmens who occupy this sparsely populated area in northwestern Syria are sympathetic to al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and harbor Turkish-backed Chechen terrorists.[9]

True to form, the “moderate Turkmen rebels” did their best to kill the two Russian pilots after they managed to eject from their jet. Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Peshkov was shot dead while parachuting to the ground whereas Captain Konstantin Murakhtin could be rescued by special forces.[10]

Nevertheless, “Syrian rebel leader” Alparslan Çelik and his men boasted of killing both pilots.[11] As Çelik’s interview went viral, it was quickly discovered that the Turkmen militia leader is actually a Turkish citizen with an ultranationalist background. His father Ramazan Çelik served as mayor for the far-right National Movement Party (MHP) in the eastern Turkish province of Elazig and Alparslan himself is a member of the Grey Wolves, the paramilitary youth wing of the MHP.[12]

Both the MHP and the Grey Wolves have close ties to Turkish and U.S.-NATO intelligence going back to the days of Operation Gladio.[13]

The increasing involvement of Turkish nationalist and Islamist organizations in supporting “Turkmen rebels” in Syria has been extensively documented [14] but the crucial role played by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and agents like Heysem Topalca is often being omitted.[15]

Despite all Turkish efforts, Turkmen militias have now lost control of most of Latakia’s Bayırbucak region,[16] prompting a few hundred Turkmen refugees to cross into Turkey via the contested Yayladagi border post.[17]

Much to dismay of the Turkish authorities, the downing of the Su-24 didn’t stop Russia from striking targets close to the Turkish border, quite the contrary.[18] This has enabled Syrian government forces to make significant progress on the ground.

To make matters worse for Ankara, Turkmen sources told Turkish pro-government newspaper Yeni Şafak that Russia is preparing to deploy S-400 anti-aircraft missiles in the former “rebel” stronghold Salma on Turkmen Mountain.[19] The strategic town was captured by government forces in mid-January “thanks to the support of the friendly Russian aviation” after having been under opposition control since 2012.[20]

Although the battle for Bayırbucak has already taken a heavy toll on all sides, the Turkish government is not willing to back down.

On 27 January, Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) reaffirmed its support for “the Turkmens in Northwestern Syria who are being targeted by the Russian airstrikes.”[21]

On the very same day, hundreds of people gathered at Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque to attend the funeral of MHP official Ibrahim Küçük. The former deputy chairman of the MHP's Fatih district office was recently killed by Russian airstrikes while fighting in Latakia.

As Küçük’s hearse left for the cemetery, many people raised their hands making the grey wolf sign and some shouted: “Killer Russia, get off of Turkmen Mountain.”

Among the funeral’s attendees were not only many leading MHP figures but also Turkmen militia leader Alparslan Çelik who described Küçük as a friend and told reporters that they had been fighting together in the Bayırbucak region. Çelik emphasized that he can move freely between Turkey and Syria and that he will return to the battlefield very soon.[22]

One day after the funeral, Çelik gave an interview to Doğan News Agency, in which he criticized the Turkish government for not doing enough to support the Turkmens and insisted that he is not afraid of the Russians who are reportedly looking for revenge.[23]

At the end of last year, Moscow called on Turkey to arrest Çelik after the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet had published a similar interview.[24] As the battle for Bayırbucak continues, this looks highly unlikely but Çelik would be well advised to stay away from both Syria and Istanbul for the future.[25]

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Secretary Carter in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” U.S. Department of Defense, 30 September 2015: http://www.defense.gov/News/News-Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/621301/department-of-defense-press-briefing-by-secretary-carter-in-the-pentagon-briefi.

[2] Max Fisher, “Why Putin is doomed to fail in Syria,” Vox, 1 October 2015: http://www.vox.com/2015/10/1/9431773/putin-russia-syria-doomed.

[3] Louisa Loveluck, “Russia ‘reducing air strikes against Syrian rebels’ as intervention fails,” The Telegraph, 16 October 2015: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11934564/Russia-reducing-air-strikes-against-Syrian-rebels-as-intervention-fails.html.

[4] Liz Sly, “Russian airstrikes are working in Syria – enough to put peace talks in doubt,” The Washington Post, 19 January 2016: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/russian-airstrikes-are-working-in-syria--enough-to-put-peace-talks-in-doubt/2016/01/19/64127084-beb2-11e5-98c8-7fab78677d51_story.html.

[5] “Turkey downs Syria military jet ‘in airspace violation,’” BBC, 23 March 2014: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26706417.

[6] Ercan Gurses, Daren Butler, Richard Balmforth and David Dolan, “Turkey summons Russian envoy over bombing of Turkmens in Syria: PM,” Reuters, 20 November 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-turkey-russia-idUSKCN0T91MO20151120.

[7] “US air force Gen Selva visits Ankara to discuss terror, Syria,” Daily Sabah, 23 November 2015: http://www.dailysabah.com/diplomacy/2015/11/23/us-air-force-gen-selva-visits-ankara-to-discuss-terror-syria.

[8] Rose Troup Buchanan, “Vladimir Putin claims US ‘leaked’ to Turkey the flight path of downed Russian jet,” The Independent, 27 November 2015: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/putin-claims-us-leaked-flight-path-of-downed-russian-jet-to-turkey-a6750966.html.

[9] Andrew Cockburn, “Mountain Ambush,” Harper’s Magazine, 4 December 2015: http://harpers.org/blog/2015/12/mountain-ambush/.

[10] Neil MacFarquhar, “Navigator of Downed Russian Plane Says There Was No Warning,” The New York Times, 25 November 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/26/world/europe/turkey-russia-jet.html.

[11] Adam Withnall, “Syrian rebels ‘shot dead Russian pilots as they descended in parachutes,’” The Independent, 24 November 2015: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/syrian-rebels-shot-dead-russian-pilots-as-they-descended-in-parachutes-a6746981.html.

[12] Johnlee Varghese, “Syria: Photos of Alparslan Celik, rebel leader from Turkey who shot Russian pilot, go viral,” International Business Times, 27 November 2015: http://www.ibtimes.co.in/syria-photos-alparslan-celik-rebel-leader-turkey-who-shot-russian-pilot-go-viral-656993.

[13] Desmond Fernandes and Iskender Ozden (2001), “United States and NATO inspired ‘psychological warfare operations’ against the ‘Kurdish communist threat’ in Turkey,” Variant, 2(12), pp. 10-16: http://www.variant.org.uk/pdfs/issue12/Fernandes.pdf.

[14] Sam Heller and S.G. Grimaldi, “A cause for all Turks: Turkey and Syria’s Turkmen rebels,” War on the Rocks, 21 January 2015: http://warontherocks.com/2016/01/a-cause-for-all-turks-turkey-and-syrias-turkmen-rebels/.

[15] Fehim Taştekin, “Wiretaps reveal Turkey’s attacks on Syrian regime positions,” Al-Monitor, 18 February 2015: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/turkey-syria-weapons-civil-war-kessab-armenian.html#.

[16] “Syrian Turkmen control only 3 of 73 villages in Bayır-Bucak,” Yeni Şafak, 27 January 2016: http://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/syrian-turkmen-control-only-3-of-73-villages-in-bayir-bucak-2396707.

[17] Humeyra Pamuk, “Syrian Turkmens cross to Turkey, fleeing advances of pro-Assad forces,” Reuters, 29 January 2016: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-turkmens-idUSKCN0V720O.

[18] Kathrin Hille, Noam Raydan and Josh Noble, “Russia vows to continue Syria air strikes close to Turkish border,” Financial Times, 25 November 2015: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6bb618c8-9355-11e5-94e6-c5413829caa5.html.

[19] “Russia set to deploy S-400 missile system on Turkmen Mountain,” Yeni Şafak,” 28 January 2016: http://www.yenisafak.com/en/world/russia-set-to-deploy-s-400-missile-systems-on-turkmen-mountain-2398288.

[20] Vladimir Isachenkov, “Syrian government thanks Russia for help capturing key town,” 22 January 2016: http://news.yahoo.com/syrian-government-thanks-russia-help-capturing-key-town-131542247.html.

[21] “Turkey will continue to support Turkmens under Russian attacks in Syria: National Security Council,” Daily Sabah, 27 January 2016: http://www.dailysabah.com/politics/2016/01/27/turkey-will-continue-to-support-turkmens-under-russian-attacks-in-syria-national-security-council.

[22] “Turkish fighter who allegedly killed Russian pilot in Syria attends funeral in Istanbul,” Today’s Zaman, 28 January 2016: http://www.todayszaman.com/national_turkish-fighter-who-allegedly-killed-russian-pilot-in-syria-attends-funeral-in-i-stanbul_410830.html.

[23] Haluk Turgut, “I have no fear of the Russians, says alleged killer of Russian pilot,” Doğan News Agency, 28 January 2016: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/i-have-no-fear-of-the-russians-says-alleged-turkmen-killer-of-russian-pilot.aspx?pageID=238&nID=94474&NewsCatID=352.

[24] “Russia demands arrest of Su-24 pilot’s murderer who gave interview to Turkish media,” Russia Today, 30 December 2015: https://www.rt.com/news/327494-russia-turkey-downed-jet/.

[25] Shaun Walker, “Murder in Istanbul: Kremlin’s hand suspected in shooting of Chechen,” The Guardian, 10 January 2016: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/10/murder-istanbul-chechen-kremlin-russia-abdulvakhid-edelgireyev.

BFP Exclusive- Paris Attacks: Western Intelligence’s Vision Blinded by Allah?

“…through its massacres in Paris, ISIS may now have dealt Assad the death blow.”

When the United States and Saudi Arabia decided to curb Iranian influence in the Middle East by embarking on a strategy that involved bolstering Sunni extremist forces, Prince Bandar bin Sultan and other Saudi officials told Washington not to worry about religious fundamentalists. Their message was plain and simple:

“We’ve created this movement, and we can control it. It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis 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.”[1]

At that time, the Bush administration began forging closer ties with the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood “to keep up the pressure” on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.[2]

Four years later, the U.S. and its allies tried to capitalize on growing public discontent in Syria by launching an Operation Cyclone-style war against the Assad government. Western media played a decisive role in enabling the covert operations which inevitably led to an escalation of violence.[3]

While Western and Gulf media were trying to perpetuate the myth of the “moderate rebels,” U.S. intelligence knew full well that “the Salafist, the Muslim Brotherhood, and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria.” The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) predicted early on that the insurgents “will try to use the Iraqi territory as a safe haven” and pointed out that “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist Principality in eastern Syria.” According to the DIA, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”[4]

As former DIA chief Michael Flynn emphasized in an interview with Al-Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan, the rise of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) came not as a surprise.[5]

What came as a surprise to U.S. intelligence was the resilience of the Assad government and the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).

Thanks to support from Russia, China, Iran and Hezbollah, Assad and the SAA are still standing after 30,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries have poured into Syria, turning parts of the country into a jihadist paradise.[6]

Reports of Western countries encouraging radicalized Islamists to join the fight cast doubt on claims that Western intelligence agencies have tried to stem the flow of jihadists to Syria.[7]

Moreover, NATO member Turkey has been instrumental in funneling fighters, weapons and all kinds of other supplies to anti-government forces in Syria, including ISIS.[8]

Parts of southern Turkey increasingly resemble Pakistan in the 1980s. The border region from Hatay to Gaziantep has already been dubbed the “Peshawar of the Middle East.”[9]

Turkey has paid a high price for its ill-fated policy vis-à-vis Syria and even the Saudis have gotten a taste of their own medicine,[10] but for the most part, the Salafis have thrown bombs at the “right” people.

Since the start of the conflict, terrorist attacks have become the new normal in Syria. When a car bomb rips through a residential area, Western media focuses on stressing that “the rebels have managed to infiltrate” an Assad stronghold, which “shows how the regime is losing ground.”[11]

Similarly, after ISIS suicide bombers recently targeted a busy residential district in southern Beirut, killing at least 43 people and wounding more than 200 in the worst attack in the city in decades, Western media turned the victims into Hezbollah human shields.[12]

When ISIS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane which claimed the lives of 224 people, the West didn’t even bother hiding its Schadenfreude and gloated over Russia paying the price for “Vladimir Putin’s military adventurism in Syria.”[13] British foreign secretary Philip Hammond told The New York Times that he hoped the attack would persuade the Russian President “to take a more flexible posture in the Syria talks.”[14]

But on November 13, one day before the Syria talks in Vienna and one day after the bombing of a “Hezbollah stronghold” in Beirut, “everything changed” because the terror reached a Western capital.

The world watched in horror as at least 129 people were killed and more than 300 injured in a series of coordinated terrorist attacks across Paris.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks and French President Francois Hollande left no doubt that this was "an act of war committed by Daesh that was prepared, organized and planned from outside [France]” with help from inside France.[15]

Investigators quickly found that the trail of the Paris killers leads to Belgium and Syria. Three of the seven suspected perpetrators are from Brussels’ Molenbeek district, which has “grown into a hub for jihadist networks,”[16] and according to French officials, six of the people directly involved in the attacks had spent time in Syria.[17]

The presumed mastermind of the Paris attacks, Belgian citizen Abdelhamid Abaaoud, returned to Belgium “at some point under the radar of authorities” after fighting with ISIS in Syria. He left again for Syria in January 2015 when Belgian police foiled a terrorist plot that he allegedly masterminded.[18] In February, the ISIS magazine Dabiq published an interview with Abaaoud, in which he boasted that Western intelligence agencies were neither able to prevent him from entering Belgium and establishing a terror cell nor from leaving the country:

“Allah blinded their vision and I was able to leave and come to Shām despite being chased after by so many intelligence agencies. All this proves that a Muslim should not fear the bloated image of the crusader intelligence. My name and picture were all over the news yet I was able to stay in their homeland, plan operations against them, and leave safely when doing so became necessary.”[19]

Another Belgian citizen who has emerged at the center of the Paris probe can tell a similar story. Salah Abdeslam lived only a few blocks away from Abaaoud in Molenbeek and spent time in the same prison. Belgian officials have no doubt that the two men knew each other.

Abdeslam also tried to travel to Syria earlier this year but he was one of the few would-be jihadists that were stopped by Turkish authorities. Despite his attempt to cross from Turkey into Syria, the Belgian government concluded that he didn’t pose a risk. A Belgian official said that “the investigation showed no signs of him actively going to terrorism.” Perhaps he was just trying to join the “moderate rebels” and he is really as innocent as his family claims.[20]

The first Paris killer who was been identified by French police is French national Ismael Omar Mostefai. Like Abdeslam, Mostefai caught the Turkish authorities’ attention when he tried to travel to Syria. But in contrast to Abdeslam, he was more successful.[21] Turkey notified France twice in December 2014 and June 2015 about Mostefai but only heard back after the Paris attacks.[22]

Either French authorities didn’t view Mostefai as a major threat or their vision was “blinded by Allah.”

This would also explain how someone managed to steal 180 detonators, 40 grenades and 10 blocks of 250 grams of plastic explosives from the Miramas military site near Marseille in July although France had been on high alert for terrorism since the Charlie Hebdo attacks.[23]

As the military website SOFREP revealed, some of the stolen explosives were later found when terrorists tried to blow up industrial targets in France. French and German police and intelligence were reportedly meeting in the weeks prior to the Paris attacks “to discuss an imminent pre-planned terrorist attack in Paris.” French security services were only wondering “whether or not the target would be soft (civilian) or hard (military, government, industrial) in nature.”[24] The bomb threat that forced Germany’s national football team to evacuate their Paris hotel on the morning of the attacks should have raised red flags.[25]

Instead of holding intelligence agencies to account for failing to prevent terrorist attacks at home while supporting terrorists in Syria and elsewhere, the response to the Paris attacks will likely entail even greater powers for security services and more support for the “Syrian rebels” under the guise of fighting ISIS.[26]

There is a certain irony in the fact that individuals like former senior CIA official Graham Fuller are now calling for the elimination of ISIS.[27] After all, Fuller has been one of the leading proponents of using jihadists against adversaries of the United States. He is credited with saying, “The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvellously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.”[28]

Fuller himself has been heavily involved in these operations.[29] Therefore, it came as a surprise when he called for ending Operation Cyclone 2.0 in Syria [30] and conceded that ISIS is “made in the USA.”[31]

After facilitating the rise of ISIS “in order to isolate the Syrian regime,” the U.S. and its allies are now stepping up their fight against the terrorist group. But as Graham Fuller noted, the real target is somebody else and the Paris attacks may prove very useful in this regard:

“Ironically the enormity of the ISIS/ al-Qaeda alternative to Asad had lately sparked some western hesitation in pursuing his overthrow, but now,  through its massacres in Paris, ISIS may now have dealt Asad the death blow.”[30]

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] Seymour M. Hersh, “The Redirection,” The New Yorker, 5 March 2007: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/03/05/the-redirection.

[2] Jay Solomon, “To Check Syria, U.S. Explores Bond With Muslim Brothers,” The Wall Street Journal, 25 July 2007: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118530969571176579.

[3] Sibel Edmonds, “What & When We Exposed, and the MSM- Quasi Alternative Culprits Who Fought Our Exposés,” Boiling Frogs Post, 29 August 2013: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/08/29/bfp-syria-coverage-track-record-what-when-we-exposed-and-the-msm-quasi-alternative-culprits-who-fought-our-exposes/.

[4] Brad Hoff, “2012 Defense Intelligence Agency document: West will facilitate rise of Islamic State ‘in order to isolate the Syrian regime,’” Levant Report, 19 May 2015: http://levantreport.com/2015/05/19/2012-defense-intelligence-agency-document-west-will-facilitate-rise-of-islamic-state-in-order-to-isolate-the-syrian-regime/.

[5] Brad Hoff, “Former DIA Chief Michael Flynn Says Rise of Islamic State was “a willful decision” and Defends Accuracy of 2012 Memo,” Levant Report, 6 August 2015: http://levantreport.com/2015/08/06/former-dia-chief-michael-flynn-says-rise-of-islamic-state-was-a-willful-decision-and-defends-accuracy-of-2012-memo/.

[6] Eric Schmitt and Somini Sengupta, “Thousands Enter Syria to Join ISIS Despite Global Efforts,” The New York Times, 26 September 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/world/middleeast/thousands-enter-syria-to-join-isis-despite-global-efforts.html?_r=0.

[7] “Lethal exports - Germany admits to urging some Islamists to leave in past,” Deutsche Welle, 2 October 2014: http://www.dw.com/en/lethal-exports-germany-admits-to-urging-some-islamists-to-leave-in-past/a-17971327.

[8] “’IS’ supply channels through Turkey,” Deutsche Welle, 26 November 2014: http://www.dw.com/en/is-supply-channels-through-turkey/av-18091048.

[9] Kadri Gursel, “Has Turkey Become the ‘Pakistan of the Middle East?,’” Al-Monitor, 24 September 2013: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2013/09/time-act-al-qaeda-turkey-jabhat-al-nusra.html#.

[10] Kareem Shaheen, “Islamic State claims suicide bombing at Saudi Arabian mosque,” The Guardian, 6 August 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/06/suicide-bomber-attacks-mosque-in-saudi-arabia.

[11] David Blair, “Syria car bomb kills 10 in Bashar al-Assad’s stronghold,” The Telegraph, 2 September 2015: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11839761/Syria-car-bomb-kills-10-in-Bashar-al-Assads-stronghold.html.

[12] Ben Norton, “Media Turn Civilian ISIS Victims in Beirut Into Hezbollah Human Shields,” FAIR, 13 November 2015: http://fair.org/home/media-turn-civilian-isis-victims-in-beirut-into-hezbollah-human-shields/.

[13] Simon Tisdall, “Sinai plane crash may show price of Putin’s military adventurism in Syria,” The Guardian, 5 November 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/05/sinai-plane-crash-putin-military-adventurism-syria-analysis.

[14] Somini Sengupta, “Invitation List Looms as Test for Syria Talks,” The New York Times, 9 November 2015: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/world/middleeast/invitation-list-looms-as-test-for-syria-talks.html.

[15] Tom Heneghan, “Hollande says Paris attacks ‘an act of war’ by Islamic State,” Reuters, 14 November 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/14/us-france-shooting-hollande-idUSKCN0T30JG20151114.

[16] Natalia Drozdiak and Julian E. Barnes, “Brussels District of Molenbeek Is Home to Some Suspects in Paris Attacks,” The Wall Street Journal, 16 November 2015: http://www.wsj.com/articles/brussels-district-is-home-to-some-suspects-in-paris-attacks-1447718699.

[17] Jethro Mullen and Margot Haddad, “’France is at war,’ President Francois Hollande says after ISIS attack,” CNN, 17 November 2015: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/16/world/paris-attacks/.

[18] Benoit Faucon, Matthew Dalton, Stacy Meichtry and David Gauthier-Villars, “Paris Attacks Suspect Was Monitored by Western Allies Seeking to Kill Him,” The Wall Street Journal, 17 November 2015: http://www.wsj.com/articles/french-authorities-raid-suspected-islamists-after-paris-attacks-1447661092.

[19] Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, “Key suspect in Paris attacks has been featured in Islamic State propaganda,” The Long War Journal, 16 November 2015: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/11/key-suspect-in-paris-attacks-has-been-featured-in-islamic-state-propaganda.php

[20] Ibid., Faucon et al.

[21] David Chazan and Rory Mulholland, “French suicide attacker ‘trained in Syria,’” The Telegraph, 15 November 2015: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11997470/French-suicide-attacker-trained-in-Syria.html.

[22] Orhan Coskun and Humeyra Pamuk, “Paris attacks: Turkey says it notified France twice about attacker, says senior official,” The Independent, 16 November 2015: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/paris-attacks-turkey-says-it-notified-france-twice-about-attacker-says-senior-official-a6736131.html.

[23] Jamey Keaten, “200 detonators, explosives stolen from French military site,” The Associated Press, 7 July 2015: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/bbd903968f6142bfa1bd4225a9e9fee7/200-detonators-explosives-stolen-french-military-site.

[24] Jack Murphy, “Breaking: French and German Police Knew Paris Attack Was Coming a Month Prior,” SOFREP, 13 November 2015: http://sofrep.com/44480/french-and-german-police-knew-paris-attack-was-coming/#ixzz3rQM86ve0.

[25] Chuck Penfold, “Bomb threat forces Germany out of Paris hotel,” Deutsche Welle, 13 November 2015: http://www.dw.com/en/bomb-threat-forces-germany-out-of-paris-hotel/a-18847733.

[26] Phil Stewart, “Exclusive: U.S. delivers ammunition to Syrian Arab fighters battling Islamic State,” Reuters, 15 November 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/15/us-mideast-crisis-ammunition-exclusive-idUSKCN0T412O20151115.

[27] Graham E. Fuller, “ISIS- The Hour Has Struck,” grahamefuller.com, 14 November 2015: http://grahamefuller.com/isis-the-hour-has-struck/.

[28] Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, “Our terrorists,” New Internationalist, 1 October 2009: http://newint.org/features/2009/10/01/blowback-extended-version/.

[29] Sibel Edmonds, “Turkish Intel Chief Exposes CIA Operations via Islamic Group in Central Asia,” Boiling Frogs Post, 6 January 2011: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2011/01/06/turkish-intel-chief-exposes-cia-operations-via-islamic-group-in-central-asia/.

[30] Graham E. Fuller, “Embracing Assad Is a Better Strategy for the U.S. Than Supporting the Least Bad Jihadis,” The Huffington Post, 29 September 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/graham-e-fuller/us-assad-isis-strategy_b_5898142.html.

[31] Ezgi Basaran, “Former CIA officer says US policies helped create IS,” Al-Monitor, 2 September 2014: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/politics/2014/09/turkey-usa-iraq-syria-isis-fuller.html#.

[32] Ibid., Fuller, 14 November 2015.

BFP Exclusive- Russia’s Syria Intervention Enrages US-led Coalition, ISIS & Al-Qaeda

‘Syrian Taliban’, Sinai crash & ‘Gladio B’ give Moscow food for thought

Russia’s intervention in Syria has whipped up feelings across the region and around the world. As soon as Russian aircraft began conducting airstrikes in Syria, Western media started complaining that Russia is bombing the wrong terrorists.[1]

After the Pentagon failed to find more than a few dozen “moderate rebels” for its much-publicized training program,[2] Russian bombs supposedly managed to find countless “moderate Syrian rebels” and U.S. officials suddenly remembered that the CIA has been running a much more effective training program than the Pentagon.[3]

U.S. government and media are still pretending that the CIA “began a covert operation in 2013 to arm, fund and train a moderate opposition to Assad” and that this secret program “is the only way the U.S. is taking on Assad militarily.”[4]

As Boiling Frogs Post exposed four years ago, U.S. covert operations started as early as April-May 2011 when a joint U.S.-NATO training camp was set up in Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base.[5]

Moscow’s intervention is now complicating efforts to hide the true extent of U.S. involvement in the conflict as well as Washington’s real objectives. Even the neocon comedians at The Daily Beast couldn’t help but wonder why CIA-trained “rebels” were fighting alongside Jabhat al-Nusra against Syrian government forces instead of battling the so-called Islamic State (ISIS).[6]

To make matters worse, Russia’s move has scuppered U.S. coalition plans for a no-fly zone in Syria, as the Financial Times so aptly put it.[7] Under the guise of establishing an “ISIS-free zone,” the United States and Turkey had been leading efforts to set up a no-fly zone and wanted to seize Syria’s Aleppo Governorate. Turkish media was already cheerfully proclaiming Aleppo as the 82nd province of Turkey before the Russians ruined everything.[8]

Although it is not exactly a secret that “an imminent move to ramp up coalition activity in Syria” forced Moscow’s hand,[9] the very same countries that are operating illegally in Syria[10] tried to claim the moral high ground when the Russian Air Force joined the fight at the request of the Syrian government.

The U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other coalition members called on Russia “to immediately cease its attacks on the Syrian opposition and civilians” and warned that Russian military actions “will only fuel more extremism and radicalization.”[11]

In case anybody had not gotten the message, a senior Qatari source told the Middle East Eye that the Russians “will be begging Qatar in 10 years time to negotiate a ceasefire with the ‘Syrian Taliban’” if they don’t back down.[12]

Both ISIS and al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra also called for jihad against Russia.[13] The terrorists apparently don’t share the U.S. government’s assessment that 85 to 90 percent of Russian airstrikes are hitting “the moderate Syrian opposition.”[14]

By now, the Islamic State has probably realized that The Daily Beast cannot be trusted.[15] Instead of giving air support to ISIS fighters, the Russian Air Force is actually targeting vital supply lines from Turkey after the U.S. had allowed “these supply lines to continue flowing.”[16]

This might explain why ISIS was so eager to claim responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane that crashed in Egypt‘s Sinai peninsula. According to the Islamic State’s Aleppo “province,” the plane was attacked in retaliation for Russia’s intervention in Syria.[17]

While investigators were still trying to figure out what caused the crash, a former U.S. diplomat with an interesting background,[18] who features in Sibel Edmonds’ The Lone Gladio, took the same line as ISIS and gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a little advice:

Matthew Bryza and the Kremlin clearly have a different interpretation of “truly fighting ISIS.” The Russians have no illusions about the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS and the true nature of the so-called Islamic State.

After calling the U.S.-led coalition out for “pretending” to bomb ISIS,[19] influential Russian lawmaker Alexey Pushkov recently explained that Russia is fighting for its own security in Syria because “those behind Islamic State are the same people who were in the past destabilizing Central Asia and attempted to break Chechnya away from Russia.”[20]

Pushkov’s allusion to the Pentagon-led ‘Gladio B’ operations in Central Asia and the Caucasus region is particularly interesting in light of recent reports suggesting that al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who participated in these operations,[21] is now taking a more prominent role in the Syrian conflict.

In a newly released audio message, Zawahiri urged his “mujahideen brothers in all places and of all groups” to join forces against Russia and the West.[22] According to unconfirmed reports, he has already sent senior al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel to Syria to mediate between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS.[23] Given Zawahiri’s background, it is safe to say that he is more interested in fighting Russia than the West.

As the U.S. and its allies are stepping up arms supplies to the non-existent “moderate Syrian rebels,”[24] the Russians might be wondering if there is any difference between the “Syrian Taliban” and their Afghan prototypes.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] Nancy A. Youssef, “Putin Hits West’s Rebels Instead of ISIS,” The Daily Best, 30 September 2015: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/09/30/putin-orders-u-s-jets-out-of-syria.html.

[2] Tom Vanden Brook, “Pentagon’s failed Syria program cost $2 million per trainee,” USA Today, 5 November 2015: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/11/05/pentagon-isil-syria-train-and-equip/75227774/.

[3] Ken Dilanian, “Officials: CIA-backed Syrian rebels under Russian blitz,” The Associated Press, 10 October 2015: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/dfe1547ba36f4f968deee227d467dc08/officials-russian-bombs-cia-rebels-had-syrian-gains.

[4] Ibid., Dilanian.

[5] Sibel Edmonds, “What & When We Exposed, and the MSM- Quasi Alternative Culprits Who Fought Our Exposés,” Boiling Frogs Post, 29 August 2013: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/08/29/bfp-syria-coverage-track-record-what-when-we-exposed-and-the-msm-quasi-alternative-culprits-who-fought-our-exposes/.

[6] Nancy A. Youssef, Michael Weiss and Tim Mak, “U.S. Admits: We Can’t Protect Syrian Allies From Russia’s Bombs,” The Daily Beast, 1 October 2015: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/01/u-s-admits-we-can-t-protect-syrian-allies-from-russia-s-bombs.html.

[7] Sam Jones, “Moscow scuppers US coalition plans for no-fly zone in Syria,” Financial Times, 4 October: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cee6fcba-69bf-11e5-8171-ba1968cf791a.html.

[8] Selin Nasi, “Conquering Aleppo,” Hürriyet Daily News, 18 August 2015: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/conquering-aleppo.aspx?pageID=238&nID=87106&NewsCatID=396.

[9] Ibid., Jones.

[10] Theo Farrell, “Are the US-led air strikes in Syria legal – and what does it mean if they are not?,” The Telegraph, 23 September 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/11116792/Are-the-US-led-air-strikes-in-Syria-legal-and-what-does-it-mean-if-they-are-not.html.

[11] “Joint Declaration on Recent Military Actions of the Russian Federation on Syria,” Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1 October 2015: http://www.mfa.gov.tr/no_-267_-02-october-2015_-joint-declaration-on-recent-military-actions-of-the-russian-federation-on-syria.en.mfa.

[12] David Hearst, “Putin’s Syrian bombing ‘will spark jihad against Moscow’: Qatar source,” Middle East Eye, 8 October 2015: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/russias-syrian-bombing-will-create-frankensteins-monster-qatar-source-634154673.

[13] Joanna Paraszczuk, “Islamic State, Al-Nusra Front Call For ‘Jihad’ Against Russia,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 14 October 2015: http://www.rferl.org/content/islamic-state-nusra-jihad-russia/27306477.html.

[14] Arshad Mohammed and Patricia Zengerle, “85-90 percent of Russian strikes hit moderate Syria rebels: U.S.,” Reuters, 4 November 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/04/us-mideast-crisis-usa-russia-idUSKCN0ST26920151104.

[15] Michael Weiss, “Russia’s Giving ISIS An Air Force,” The Daily Beast, 8 October 2015: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/10/08/russia-s-giving-isis-an-air-force.html.

[16] Angelo M. Codevilla, “U.S. And Russian Airpower In The Desert,” War on the Rocks, 5 November 2015: http://warontherocks.com/2015/11/u-s-and-russian-airpower-in-the-desert/.

[17] Thomas Joscelyn, “Islamic State video congratulates Sinai ‘province’ for downing Russian airliner,” The Long War Journal, 6 November 2015: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/11/islamic-state-video-congratulates-sinai-province-for-downing-russian-airliner.php.

[18] Sibel Edmonds, “Obama Appoints a Not-Too-Long-Ago-Hatched Neocon Larva,” Boiling Frogs Post, 27 July 2010: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2010/07/27/obama-appoints-a-not-too-long-ago-hatched-neocon-larva/.

[19] Astrid Wendlandt, “Russian air strikes in Syria to last three-four months: Putin ally,” Reuters, 2 October 2015: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/02/us-mideast-crisis-russia-strike-idUSKCN0RW0I020151002.

[20] “Lawmaker: IS sponsors once tried to break Chechnya from Russia,” TASS, 23 October 2015: http://tass.ru/en/politics/831336.

[21] Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, “Why was a Sunday Times report on US government ties to al-Qaeda chief spiked?,” Ceasefire Magazine, 17 May 2013: https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/whistleblower-al-qaeda-chief-u-s-asset/.

[22] Vasudevan Sridharan, “Al-Qaeda: Ayman al-Zawahiri urges jihadis to unite against Russia and West,” International Business Times, 2 November 2015: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/al-qaeda-ayman-al-zawahiri-urges-jihadis-unite-against-russia-west-1526714.

[23] J.J. Green, “Mysterious al-Qaida figure emerges in Syria,” Washington’s Top News, 5 November 2015: http://wtop.com/national-security/2015/11/mysterious-al-qaida-figure-emerges-in-syria/.

[24] Adam Entous, “U.S., Allies to Boost Aid to Syria Rebels,” The Wall Street Journal, 4 November 2015: http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-allies-to-boost-aid-to-syria-rebels-1446682624.

Capture of Top al-Qaeda Operative Highlights Turkey’s Role in U.S.-NATO Terror Operations

Al-Zawahiri’s Man in Libya Detained in Turkey: Another Desperate Attempt to Save the War on Terror Myth

Since the start of the so-called “Syrian civil war,” NATO member Turkey has played a decisive role in fueling the conflict by funneling countless weapons and fighters into Syria. Were it not for Turkey’s strong support of terrorists fighting in Syria, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) would not have been possible, as ISIS fighters themselves acknowledged.[1] The siege of Kobani drew a lot of attention to Turkey’s relationship with the much-hyped terrorist group and even Western mainstream media is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore that the Turkish authorities support ISIS in any and every possible way.[2]

But contrary to popular belief, Turkey did not become a safe haven for terrorists only recently. The strategically located country has long been used as a base for various U.S./NATO terror operations. Since the 1990s, Turkey, along with Azerbaijan, has served as the main conduit for the ‘Gladio B’ operations, which introduced the tried and tested method of using jihadist mercenaries as foot soldiers to a new theater of operations, namely the Balkans, Central Asia and the Caucasus region.[3] Therefore, it is no accident that many Chechen  terrorists can be found in Turkey, as highlighted by Russian network in the country.[4] After violence rocked the Chechen capital Grozny in early December, it did not take long before Turkey’s role in sheltering “Chechen rebels” became again the focus of attention. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov immediately accused Western security services and Akhmat Umarov, the brother of former North Caucasus insurgency leader Doku Umarov, of organizing the attack and he urged Russia’s law enforcement agencies to demand Umarov’s extradition from Turkey, where the prominent Chechen is reportedly living at the moment.[5] The Turkish authorities and their Western partners know exactly how to exploit Chechen refugees in order to ensure an abundant supply of fighters for current operations, be it the destabilization of the North Caucasus or the war in Syria. Taking a stand against this modus operandi can be very dangerous, as the case of Medet Onlu shows. Onlu wasan influential figure in Turkey’s ethnic Caucasian community who bore the unofficial title “honorary consul of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” up until his assassination in Ankara in May of last year. The suspicion quickly focused on Russia but Onlu’s family and lawyer suspect that he was killed because he was an obstacle on the “jihadist highway” to Syria.[6]

Onlu’s assassination serves as a reminder that nobody is indispensable. Even high-level terrorists, who have been useful in the past, are taken off the streets from time to time for different reasons, one of which is to maintain the illusion of the “Global War on Terrorism.” Last year’s arrest of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith illustrates this very well. After being nowhere to be found for several years, Abu Ghaith turned up in a five star hotel in the heart of Ankara at the beginning of last year. The Turkish authorities, acting on a tip from the CIA, detained the top al-Qaeda leader and questioned him extensively but refused to extradite him to the United States.[7] Instead they decided to deport Abu Ghaith to his home country, Kuwait, where he never arrived since the CIA snatched him during a stopover in Jordan.[8] Interestingly, the curious arrest of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith  in Turkey is not an isolated incident and there are some noteworthy parallels to the recent capture of al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Baset Azzouz:

An operative who was dispatched to Libya by al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri was reportedly captured in Turkey and is now being held in Jordan.

Azzouz was handpicked by Zawahiri to oversee al Qaeda's efforts in post-revolution Libya. According to the Turkish reports, Azzouz was detained in mid-November after the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Turkish authorities located him in the "summer resort" area of Yalova, which is south of Istanbul. Two laptops and a fake passport were captured along with Azzouz.

According to an account by the Washington Post, Azzouz was soon deported to Jordan, where he is currently being held.[9]

“It is not clear what Azzouz was specifically doing in Turkey at the time of his capture” but it is worth pointing out that Azzouz’s colleagues from the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) and other “Libyan rebels” have made their way to Syria via Turkey.[10] Moreover, CIA and MI6 have been shipping tons of weapons from Libya to Turkey in order to arm the terrorists fighting in Syria and Azzouz’s possible involvement in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which provided cover for the moving of arms,[11] raises new questions because there is some evidence to suggest that the Benghazi attack was aimed at silencing U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, who opposed the CIA operation.[12] At any rate, it comes as no real surprise that the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in Libya was captured in Turkey and that the CIA provided the tip leading to his arrest.[13]

A few weeks prior, the U.S. State Department had added Abd al-Baset Azzouz to the U.S. government's list of specially designated global terrorists,[14] which prompted the British press to draw attention to the fact that Azzouz had been “arrested and detained but then freed by the British authorities.”[15] After living in Manchester for several years, Azzouz allegedly left Britain in 2009 for Pakistan, “where he became a close lieutenant of al-Zawahiri before being sent to Libya” but his ties to top ‘Gladio B’ operative Ayman al-Zawahiri date back to the 1980s. According to an unclassified report by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress titled “Al Qaeda in Libya: A Profile,” Azzouz “has been close to al-Zawahiri since the 1980s and first traveled to Afghanistan in the early 1990s to join mujahidin fighting the Soviet occupation.”[16] So Azzouz did not start his terrorist career only recently and up until a few weeks ago, he could count on the support of the U.S. and its allies.

If Abd al-Baset Azzouz paid any attention to what happened to his close colleague Anas al-Liby, he could have seen it coming. As highlighted last year, al-Liby was snatched from the streets of the Libyan capital Tripoli and presented as one of the most dangerous terrorists on the planet after he had been doing Washington’s bidding in several countries for more than two decades. The similarities between the cases of Abd al-Baset Azzouz and Anas al-Liby are remarkable. Both started their careers as jihadist mercenaries in Afghanistan, where they forged close ties with Ayman al-Zawahiri & Co., before they eventually settled in Manchester, enjoying the hospitality of the British authorities:

“LIFG terrorist al-Liby eventually settled in Manchester after he was granted asylum in the United Kingdom in 1995 despite objections from the Libyan government [12] and an extradition request from Egypt.[13] Then in late 1995 or early 1996 British intelligence service MI6 reportedly paid the LIFG approximately $160.000 of taxpayers’ money to kill Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi.[14] The plot failed, several militants and innocent bystanders were killed but Gaddafi survived. Abu Anas al-Liby was protected by the British authorities and continued to live unimpeded in Manchester until May 2000 when he was arrested but managed to escape under dubious circumstances…”[17]

Later on, Azzouz and al-Liby showed up in Libya to support NATO’s “Libyan revolution” and run al-Qaeda’s operations in the country on behalf of al-Zawahiri, who has been working for the U.S. and NATO all along.[18] But despite all that, we are led to believe that the capture of Abd al-Baset Azzouz represents a significant success in the so-called “Global War on Terrorism.” Instead it looks like another desperate attempt to save the War on Terror myth, while more and more people realize that the terrorists, who are wreaking havoc across the Middle East and North Africa Region, are backed by the U.S., Turkey and other nefarious players.    

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst
Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

Notes

[1] Deniz Kahraman, “ISIS Terrorists Thank AKP for Hospital Treatment,” Aydınlık, 26 June 2014: http://www.aydinlikdaily.com/Detail/ISIS-Terrorists-Thank-AKP-For-Hospital-Treatment/3729#.VJy0jv8AA.

[2] David L. Phillips, “Research Paper: ISIS-Turkey Links,” Institute for the Study of Human Rights, 22 November 2014: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-l-phillips/research-paper-isis-turke_b_6128950.html.

[3] Nafeez Mossadeq Ahmed, “Why was a Sunday Times report on US government ties to al-Qaeda chief spiked?,” Ceasefire Magazine, 17 May 2013: https://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/whistleblower-al-qaeda-chief-u-s-asset/.

[4] Sibel Edmonds, “BFP Exclusive: US-NATO-Chechen Militia Joint Operations Base,” Boiling Frogs Post, 22 November 2011: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2011/11/22/bfp-exclusive-us-nato-chechen-militia-joint-operations-base/.

[5] Christoph Germann, “The New Great Game Round-Up #78,” Boiling Frogs Post, 8 December 2014: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2014/12/08/the-new-great-game-round-up-december-8-2014/.

[6] Sibel Utku Bila, “Syrian link suspected in Chechen murder in Ankara,” Al-Monitor, 25 November 2014: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/11/turkey-chechen-murder-syria-link.html#.

[7] “Interview 598 – Sibel Edmonds on Gladio B, Protected Terrorists and Stifled Investigations,” The Corbett Report, 8 February 2013: http://www.corbettreport.com/interview-598-sibel-edmonds-on-gladio-b-protected-terrorists-and-stifled-investigations/.

[8] “US captured Bin Laden son-in-law on the way to Kuwait,” Hürriyet, 7 March 2013: http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/us-captured-bin-laden-son-in-law-on-the-way-to-kuwait.aspx?pageID=238&nID=42498&NewsCatID=359.

[9] Thomas Joscelyn, “Representative of Ayman al Zawahiri reportedly captured in Turkey,” The Long War Journal, 7 December 2014: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/12/representative_of_ay.php.

[10] Tony Cartalucci, “Libyan Terrorists Are Invading Syria,” Land Destroyer Report, 14 August 2012: http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2012/08/libyan-terrorists-are-invading-syria.html.

[11] Seymour Hersh, “The Red Line and the Rat Line,” London Review of Books, 17 April 2014: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/seymour-m-hersh/the-red-line-and-the-rat-line.

[12] “Interview 876 – James Corbett Blows the Lid Off of Benghazigate,” The Corbett Report, 5 May 2014: http://www.corbettreport.com/interview-876-james-corbett-blows-the-lid-off-of-benghazigate/.

[13] “Turkish security forces capture Benghazi attack suspect: report,” Daily Sabah, 4 December 2014: http://www.dailysabah.com/nation/2014/12/04/libyan-alqaeda-leader-detained-in-turkey-following-joint-usturkish-operation.

[14] “Designations of Foreign Terrorist Fighters,” U.S. Department of State, 24 September 2014: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/09/232067.htm.

[15] Robert Mendick, Tom Whitehead & Raf Sanchez, “Freed UK prisoner is al-Qaeda ringleader,” The Telegraph, 27 September 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/terrorism-in-the-uk/11125944/Freed-UK-prisoner-is-al-Qaeda-ringleader.html.

[16] “AL-QAEDA IN LIBYA: A PROFILE,” The Library of Congress, August 2012: http://www.kronosadvisory.com/CTTSO_Al_Qaeda_in_Libya_Final_Obtained260912.pdf.

[17] Christoph Germann, “Desperate Attempts to Save the Myth of the War on Terror,” Boiling Frogs Post, 11 October 2013: http://www.boilingfrogspost.com/2013/10/11/desperate-attempts-to-save-the-myth-of-the-war-on-terror/.

[18] “Episode 258 – Know Your Terrorists: Ayman Al-Zawahiri,” The Corbett Report, 16 February 2013: http://www.corbettreport.com/episode-258-know-your-terrorists-ayman-al-zawahiri/.