Terrorism in Syria

The same Terrorism in Syria has a long history dating from the Islamist Uprising in the early 1980s and to the ongoing Syrian Civil War which witnessed the rise of radical Islamist groups such as ISIL, al-Nusra and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups.


Under Hafez al-Assad

Islamist uprising

From 1976 to 1982, Sunni Islamists fought the secular Ba'ath Party-controlled government of Syria in what has been called "long campaign of terror".[1] Islamists attacked both civilians and off-duty military personnel.

The Muslim Brotherhood was blamed for the terror by the government, although the insurgents used names such as Kata'ib Muhammad (Phalanges of Muhammad, begun in Hama in 1965 Marwan Hadid) to refer to their organization.[2]

Following Syrian occupation of Lebanon in 1986 a number of prominent Syrian officers and government servants, as well as "professional men, doctors, teachers," were assassinated. Most of the victims were Alawis, "which suggested that the assassins had targeted the community" but "no one could be sure who was behind" the killings.[3]

Among the better known victims were:

  • the commander of the Hama garrison, Colonel Ali Haydar, killed in October 1976
  • the rector of Damascus University, Dr. Muhammad al-Fadl, killed in February 1977
  • the commander of the missile corps, Brigadier 'Abd al Hamid Ruzzug, killed in June 1977
  • the doyen of Syrian dentists, Dr Ibrahim Na'ama, killed in March 1978
  • the director of police affairs at the Ministry of the Interior, Colonel Ahmad Khalil, killed in August 1978
  • Public Prosecutor 'Adil Mini of the Supreme State Security Court, killed in April 1979.
  • President Hafez Assad's own doctor, the neurologist Dr. Muhammad Shahada Khalil, who was killed in August 1979.[4]

These assassinations led up to the 17 June 1979 slaughter of cadets at the Aleppo Artillery School. On that day a member of school staff, Captain Ibrahim Yusuf, assembled the cadets in the dining-hall and then let in the gunmen who opened fire on the cadets. According to the official report 32 young men were killed. Unofficial sources say the "death toll was as high as 83."[5] This attack was the work of Tali'a muqatila, or Fighting Vanguard, a Sunni Islamist guerrilla group and spinoff of the Muslim Brotherhood. `Adnan `Uqla, who later became the group's leader, helped plan the massacre.[6]

The cadet massacre "marked the start of full-scale urban warfare" against Alawis, cadre of the ruling Ba'ath party, party offices, "police posts, military vehicles, barracks, factories and any other target the guerrillas could attack." In the city of Aleppo between 1979 and 1981 terrorists killed over 300 people, mainly Ba'athists and Alawis, but also a dozen Islamic clergy who had denounced the murders. Of these the most prominent was Shaykh Muhammad al-Shami, who was slain in his own mosque, the Sulaymaniya, on 2 February 1980.

On 26 June 1980, the president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, "narrowly escaped death" when attackers threw two grenades and fired machine gun bursts at him as he waited at a diplomatic function in Damascus.[7]

While the involvement of the Syrian government "was not proved" in these killings, it "was widely suspected."[8]

The insurgency is generally considered to have been crushed by the bloody Hama massacre of 1982, in which thousands were killed, "the vast majority innocent civilians".[9][10]


According to some sources, such as Syrian president Hafez al-Assad[11] and journalist Robert Dreyfuss,[12] the Muslim Brotherhood insurgents in Syria were aided by the Jordanian government in cooperation with Lebanese Phalangists, South Lebanon Army, and the right-wing Israeli government of Menachem Begin, who allegedly supported, funded and armed the Muslim Brotherhood in an effort to overthrow the government of President Assad.

We are not just dealing with killers inside Syria, but with those who masterminded their plans. The plot thickened after Sadat's visit to Jerusalem and many foreign intelligence services became involved. Those who took part in Camp David used the Muslim Brothers against us.[13]

The South Lebanese Army allegedly set up camps to help train the Muslim Brotherhood insurgents. Both Israel and Syria had troops in Lebanon and clashed over domination of that country. Syria's Arab nationalist government has supported the overthrow of the Royalist, pro-Western Jordanian government.

1986 bombings

In 1986 a series of bombings, mainly around the capital of Damascus, caused hundreds of casualties. Iraqi Ba'athis agents were blamed for the acts.

Under Bashar al-Assad


On 28 September 2008, at least 17 people been killed and 14 hurt by a car bomb on the outskirts of Syria's capital Damascus. The target of the blast was unclear, but it struck close to an important Shia shrine and a security post.[14]

A little more than year later (on 3 December 2009) another explosion killed at least three people when a bus blew up in a Damascus suburb. Syrian officials denied terrorism was involved.[15]

On September 15 2019, eight civilians died and seven others injured in a car-bomb explosion near a hospital in the northern province of Aleppo. None of sides claimed the responsibility of attack.[16]

During the Syrian Civil War

The Syrian government repeatedly claimed that the actions of security forces against the Syrian Civil War were a response to armed attacks by "terrorist gangs",[17][18] a claim rejected by western humans rights groups, Western governments, and other observers.[17][19][20][21][22]

At least 80 suicide bombings had been recorded in the conflict by the end of November 2012. Both the government and the opposition have accused each other of perpetrating the bombings. Only "shadowy Islamist groups" (one being Al-Nusra Front), possibly affiliated with Al-Qaeda, have claimed responsibility; Al-Nusra took responsibility for 57 of them. At least one such bombing claimed to be in retaliation for Syrian government attacks on residential areas, but also struck a sectarian tone: "We tell this regime: Stop your massacres against the Sunni people. If not, you will bear the sin of the Alawites. What is coming will be more calamitous, God willing." Observers believe such groups have made inroads in Syria, capitalizing on the instability resulting from the uprising.[23]

The Syrian government itself has been accused of terror or state terrorism. September 5, 2012 Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyab Erdogan stated, "The regime has become one of state terrorism. Syria is going through a huge humanitarian saga. Unfortunately, as usual, the international community is merely watching the slaughter, massacre and the elimination of Muslims."[24]

The tactic of shelling, invading, and killing, but then retreating from civilian areas has reportedly been used in several areas ringing Damascus in July and August 2012, such as Kafr Sousa, where tanks backed by infantry left at least 24 people dead before leaving according to pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to Salem, "terror is the basic approach" of the government. "From the beginning of the uprising the logic was hit and hit hard, punish and scare," the opposite of the "winning hearts and minds" model. The New York Times journalist Damien Cave describes the government's approach as following the saying "rule is based on awe."[25]

Cooperation with Iraq

Syrian President Bashar Assad met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Syria on 21 January 2007 and discussed terrorism in the Middle East and the situation in Iraq. They issued a joint statement condemning "all forms of terrorism plaguing the Iraqi people and their institutions, infrastructure and security service." Assad and Talabani expressed "readiness to work together and do everything possible to eradicate terrorism."[26]

Alleged Syrian state-sponsored terrorism

The Syrian government itself has been accused of engaging in state sponsored terrorism by President George W. Bush and by the U.S. State Department from 1979 to today.[27] The European Community met on 10 November 1986 to discuss the Hindawi affair, an attempt to bomb an El Al flight out of London, and the subsequent arrest and trial in the UK of Nizar Hindawi, who allegedly received Syrian government support after the bombing, and possibly beforehand.[28] The European response was to impose sanctions against Syria and state that these measures were intended "to send Syria the clearest possible message that what has happened is absolutely unacceptable."[29]

However, Syria has assisted the United States and other governments in their opposition to al-Qaeda. This include Syria's efforts in stemming the flow of al-Qaeda backed fighters from crossing into Iraq along its border. (Country Reports on Terrorism, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, 27 April 2005).[30]

In 2012, Lebanon charged former Lebanese Minister Michel Samaha and a high-ranking Syrian military official, Syria's National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk, with being involved in a terror plot aimed at destabilizing Lebanon. Samaha is a longtime ally, and friend, of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Ali Mamlouk. Samaha reportedly confessed to his involvement in the terror plot, and some Lebanese politicians have called to break ties with the Assad government.[31]

During the probe, it was alleged that Syrian President Bashar Assad gave direct orders to execute terrorist attacks in Lebanon, and Michel Samaha admitted that he was working for Assad's government in trying to execute a plan to detonate explosives in Akkar, Lebanon. Samaha admitted to collaborating with General Ali Mamlouk, who heads the Syrian national security bureau.[32]

Numerous assassinations of opponents of Syria and the Syrian government have been alleged to involve the Syrian government. Syria and its supporters claim that no substantial evidence has been produced to prove these allegations.

  • (December 2005) Gebran Tueni, an anti-Syrian journalist and lawmaker was assassinated.[33]
  • (September 2005) May Chidiac an anti-Syrian journalist and political commentator was severely injured in an assassination attempt against her life.[34]
  • (June 2005) Samir Kassir, an anti-Syrian journalist was assassinated.[35]
  • (February 2005) Rafic Hariri was killed by a car bomb which killed ten others. Hariri was a known opponent of the pro-Syrian policies of Émile Lahoud. The opposition parties in Lebanon accuse Syria of orchestrating the assassination.[36]
  • (July 1980) Assassination of Riad Taha, a prominent journalist.[37]

See also


  1. Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p.336-7
  2. Seale, p. 322-3
  3. Seale, p. 316-7
  4. Seale, p. 317
  5. Seale, p. 316
  6. Seale, p. 325
  7. Seale, p. 328-9
  8. Seale, p. 329
  9. Wright, Robin, Dreams and Shadows: the Future of the Middle East, Penguin Press, 2008, p. 243
  10. Seale, p.334
  11. Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p.334-6
  12. Robert Dreyfuss: The Devils Game: How the United States Unleashed Fundamentalist Islam. 2005.
  13. source: interview with Asad, Damascus, 12 May 1985 quoted in Seale, Patrick, Asad, the Struggle for the Middle East, University of California Press, 1989, p. 334-6
  14. "Syrian car bomb attack kills 17". BBC News. 27 September 2008. Retrieved 27 September 2008.
  15. Damascus Bus Bomb: 'Up To 12' Killed In Syria Explosion, Albert Aji, 3 December 2009.
  16. "Civilians killed in car bombing in Syria". Camden-Narellan Advertiser. 2019-09-16. Retrieved 2019-09-16.
  17. World Report 2012: Syria hrw.org
  18. Syria claims it has retaken key rebel village| cbsnews.com| 13 June 2012
  19. "UNICEF says 400 children killed in Syria unrest". Google News. Geneva. Agence France-Presse. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  20. UNICEF: 500 children died in Syrian war – UPI.com
  21. "UNICEF says 400 children killed in Syria". The Courier-Mail. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  22. Peralta, Eyder (3 February 2012). "Rights Group Says Syrian Security Forces Detained, Tortured Children: The Two-Way". NPR. Retrieved 16 February 2012.
  23. Militant video claims deadly Syria bombings By BEN HUBBARD | Associated Press |12 May 2012
  24. Turkey accuses Syria of 'state terrorism' By ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press| 5 September 2012
  25. Syrian Forces Are Said to Expand Deadly ‘Hit and Run’ Efforts in Damascus| By DAMIEN CAVE| 22 August 2012
  26. Assad pledges to work with Iraq in anti-terrorism fight Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine Gulf Times
  27. Syria's Links to Terrorism Compiled for the Online NewsHour by David Butterworth for PBS Posted: 9 March 2005.
  28. 1986: On this day 24 October 1986: UK cuts links with Syria over bomb plot BBC 24 October
  29. The Hindawi Case: Syrian Connexions. Background Brief by ICT Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, 1 November 1986
  30. United States Department of State
  31. Hussein Dakroub (13 August 2012). "Military launches Samaha probe". The Daily Star. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  32. "Probe reveals Syria's Assad behind Lebanon terrorism plot". Al Arabiya. Ya Libnan. 28 August 2012. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  33. Director-General condemns assassination of Lebanese newspaper editor Gebran Tueni: UNESCO-CI
  34. Foreign Correspondent – 08/08/2006: Beirut – May Chidiac
  35. Who Killed Samir Kassir? By Robert Fisk
  36. Syria and International Terrorism Archived 2006-07-20 at the Wayback Machine blog site called cedarland Archived 2006-07-20 at the Wayback Machine. Seems to have a lot about Lebanon on the site Archived 2006-07-16 at the Wayback Machine
  37. Journalists and politicians pay tribute to legacy of Riad Taha The Daily Star
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