As Iraq takes greater responsibility for its security, the government has begun to lash out at Syria for serving as a sanctuary and training ground for al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni and Ba’athist insurgent groups. Today the Iraqi government aired the confession of Mohammed Hassan al Shemari, a Saudi al Qaeda member who claims to be the leader of the terror group’s forces in Diyala province. Sherari said Syrian intelligence, or the Mukhabarat, actively supports al Qaeda in Iraq. From Reuters:
Shemari said when he arrived in Syria from Saudi Arabia, he was met by a militant who took him to an al Qaeda training camp in Syria. The head of the camp was a Syrian intelligence agent called Abu al-Qaqaa, he said. “They taught us lessons in Islamic law and trained us to fight. The camp was well known to Syrian intelligence,” he said.
Once inside Iraq he undertook more training in its vast desert province of Anbar, bordering Syria, alongside 30 other foreign fighters. He then met a purported al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Omar al-Baghdadi, who he said appointed him head of al Qaeda in the violent Diyala province.
He launched gun attacks on police checkpoints in Diyala, kidnapping Iraqi officers and extorting money for their release or killed them with knives and set up suicide bombings, he said.
You can find more information on Abu al-Qaqaa (or Abu al-Qaqa, whose real name is Dr. Mahmud al-Aghasi) here, here, here, and here. He was assassinated after leaving a mosque in Aleppo in September 2007. It is believed he was killed by a rival takfiri group. The Jamestown Foundation explained that al-Qaqaa was widely thought to have worked for the Syrian governemnt.
Abu al-Qaqa was frequently criticized by Syrian opposition parties, some of which suggested he was an agent of the Baathist regime. At times, there seemed to be little effort to disguise al-Qaqa’s links to Syrian intelligence. The preacher moved freely around Syria with bodyguards whom many believed were supplied by one of Syria’s four main intelligence agencies. Al-Qaqa gave regular sermons at Aleppo’s al-Tawabbin mosque, something normally done only with the permission of Syria’s Al-Awqaf Ministry (al-Watan, September 30). At one point, al-Qaqa even suggested unifying the religious and security establishments in Syria (al-Rai al-Aam, June 14, 2006). Various mujahideen internet forums warned against dealing with the preacher, accusing al-Qaqa of working for Syrian intelligence or US authorities. Although these types of accusations are common in the covert world, appearance can sometimes be as good as reality. Syria is now trying to act as a sponsor to the armed Sunni opposition in Iraq (including former Baathists), but suspicions in Iraq surrounding al-Qaqa’s loyalties might have necessitated his removal to advance the new policy.
Islamists like al-Qaqaa and al Qaeda operatives Abu Ghadiya (killed in a US commando raid in September 2008), Abu Khalaf, and now Sheikh Issa al Masri cannot operate in a police state like Syria without the countenance of the Mukhabarat and the government.
Are you a dedicated reader of FDD's Long War Journal? Has our research benefitted you or your team over the years? Support our independent reporting and analysis today by considering a one-time or monthly donation. Thanks for reading! You can make a tax-deductible donation here.