The Syrian Connection
Following the evil trails.


The central rationale for the invasion of Iraq was not simply the threat posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction–it was the nexus between terrorists, their state sponsors, and WMDs. The anthrax attacks that took place in this country in the fall of 2001 could be an example; they were clearly conducted by terrorists, and involved biological weapons. The perpetrators have not been found. Letters accompanying the attacks stated, “Death to America. Death to Israel. Allah is Great.” Nevertheless, investigations have focused on domestic sources since the anthrax was in some cases highly sophisticated and weaponized. The fact that the Kay report mentioned Iraqi anthrax-production capabilities could point in another direction, if the “domestic perp” premise can be overcome. (It is comparable to the premise that the D.C. sniper had to be a disgruntled, white, right-wing Christian–a bad working assumption that ignored the obvious.)

The planned al Qaeda attack in Amman that was disrupted by Jordanian security forces is another example of the nexus in action, and a cautionary tale on the complexity of the war on terrorism. This was not the first time al Qaeda has targeted Jordan–their embassy in Iraq was attacked last August and the terrorists have been vocal in their condemnations of the Jordanian government for its cooperation with the United States in the war effort. The plan was to mount suicide attacks on their intelligence headquarters, the prime minister’s office, and the U.S. embassy with a truck carrying 20 tons of chemical explosives. The bombing would have raised a chemical cloud for a mile radius and killed an estimated 80,000 people, in a country of 5.4 million. (An attack of that proportion in this country would kill 4.3 million.)

Jordanian TV carried an interview with captured members of the attack teams, including the leader of the group, a Jordanian named Azmi al-Jayyusi, a long-time member of al Qaeda. He trained in Osama bin Laden camps in Herat, Afghanistan prior to the fall of the Taliban, under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who currently is orchestrating al Qaeda attacks against Coalition forces in Iraq. He was given “high level courses in explosives and poisons.” After Afghanistan was liberated, Zarqawi ordered al-Jayyusi to Iraq–apparently before Operation Iraqi Freedom. He later infiltrated Jordan with others to plan their attack. Safe houses were procured by a Syrian who worked with Zarqawi. The team began to procure chemicals, they said through companies that used them for other purposes. Al-Jayyusi weaponized the chemicals himself, at small labs in secure warehouses. Money, trucks, forged passports, I.D. cards, and car registrations all came by courier through Syria. So did four of the ten members of the attack teams, three of whom chose to fight to the death with Jordanian security forces.

Zarqawi, who claimed credit for having ordered the attack, affirmed the intent to undertake the bombing, but denied that there were chemical weapons involved, saying that the confessions were the result of torture. Another report from Jordan claimed that the chemicals, like the other supplies, came from Syria. It brought to mind the stories that were circulating in the press over a year ago that Iraqi WMDs were being transported in large numbers to Syria. The Iraq-Syrian border is difficult enough to seal now; at the time it was wide open. It would be an interesting development if 20 of the 1,000 tons of chemical weapons that the Blix report found unaccounted for in Iraq turned up in Jordan.

The day after the video confessions aired, explosions hit Damascus. A group of four gunmen blew up a parked car in front of the U.N. Disengagement Observer Force building, which had been unused for several years and was then occupied by two homeless families. The men then began shooting randomly and throwing hand grenades, until security forces arrived and killed several of them. Hundreds of demonstrators then materialized, hoisting oversize pictures of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and chanting something about solidarity.

Syrians have used the incident to make the case that their country is also a target of terrorism, a victim in the global war. But Syria is demonstrably one of the most important sponsors of international terrorism, and has been for decades. Terror groups have benefited from Syrian financial support, safe haven, training, logistics, diplomatic support, you name it. President Assad recently publicly praised the attacks against Coalition forces in Iraq. There is no particular reason for any terrorist group to attack Syria. That is, if it was an attack. There were several peculiar things about the incident. The target, obviously. What exactly was the point in bombing an empty U.N. building? In addition, no group has claimed credit for the event, which terrorists usually do, in order to state their grievances and threaten more violence unless their demands are met. There are theories–al Qaeda, Kurds, Israelis, Americans–but no group to my knowledge has made a public statement claiming credit, or expressing solidarity. This has raised the question whether Syria might have been behind the incident, using it to distract attention from its links to the planned attack in Jordan. Congressman Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) stated “Syria seems to be once again starting fires just to get credit for putting them out.” Given the strong Syrian involvement–official or otherwise–in al Qaeda’s activities in Jordan, the situation may be more complex than the congressman implies. I have never doubted that Syria is a front-line state in the war on terrorism, I just never thought they were on our side of the line.