PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Dawn.com/AP) – Suleman spent years targeting members of the Shia community in his home country of Pakistan as a member of sectarian terrorist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ). Now he is on his way to a new sectarian battleground, Syria, where he plans to join rebels battling President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The short and stocky man, who identified himself using only his first name for fear of being targeted by authorities, is one of an increasing number of militants who have left Pakistan for Syria in recent months.
The fighters have contributed to a growing presence of extremists and complicated US efforts to help the rebels. Many fighters like Suleman believe they must help Syria’s Sunni majority defeat Assad’s Alawite regime.
The presence of religious extremists in Syria looms large over US efforts to help the rebels, especially when it comes to providing weapons that could end up in the hands of America’s enemies. The extremists have also sparked infighting with more secular rebels concerned about their increasing power. Most of the foreign fighters in Syria are from Arab countries, including Al Qaeda militants from Iraq on the rebel side and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon on the regime’s side. The flow of militants from Pakistan adds a new element to that mix.
Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman Omar Hamid Khan said provincial authorities throughout Pakistan deny that militants have left the country for Syria. But three Pakistani intelligence officials based in the tribal region that borders Afghanistan, as well as militants themselves, say the fighters leaving Pakistan for Syria include members of Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and the LeJ.
Taliban involvement may further drag Turkey into Syria quagmire
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ANKARA, Turkey (Today’s Zaman) – In the latest development in the Syrian crisis, the Taliban declared that it would join the opposition ranks as part of a strategy to cement ties with the al-Qaeda leadership — a situation which experts agree poses a threat to Turkey’s security and the legitimacy of its support of the Syrian opposition.
“The involvement of these Islamist groups in the war in Syria is a threat to Turkey in every sense. Firstly, it is a threat to Turkey’s security. Secondly, Turkey supports the Syrian opposition forces that are fighting against the regime. Therefore, the involvement of such groups in the opposition ranks may create the image of Turkey supporting these groups,” according to Oytun Orhan, a Syria expert from the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM).
“Turkey’s security in the Middle East is in danger. After this, it has became impossible to identify the groups on the ground in Syria,” Mehmet Seyfettin Erol, the head of Ankara’s International Strategic and Security Research Center (USGAM), said.
As Assad’s forces, with backing from Iran and Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah, have made gains on the Syrian battlefield, al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups, which were not key players in Syria initially, have started to deepen their influence in the country.
Taliban commanders in Pakistan said they had also decided to join the cause, saying hundreds of fighters had gone to Syria to fight alongside their Mujahedeen friends. “When our brothers needed our help, we sent hundreds of fighters along with our Arab friends,” one senior commander told Reuters, adding that the group would soon issue videos of what he described as their victories in Syria. The Taliban also declared that it has set up camps in the war-torn country.
Orhan also noted that the gaining of power of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Syria would also pose a threat to the legitimacy of the Syrian opposition. “The Syrian opposition’s hand will be weakened against the countries that support it because these countries are against the involvement of radical jihadist groups in the war in Syria.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu had stated in May that the chief cause of al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra Front’s ascendancy among opposition forces is the West’s approach towards Syrian opposition fighters. He stressed that the denial of military assistance to moderate groups such as the FSA has fuelled support for al-Nusra-like units.
The radical opposition al-Nusra, which currently appears to be the most coherent and capable militant forces among the fractured and disparate opposition fighters, is recognized as a terrorist organization by the US and was seen as a primary factor for the West’s reluctance to arm the opposition forces. The West is apparently uneasy with the growing presence of radical elements on the ground.
Tensions in the war-torn country erupted again on Thursday when an al-Qaeda-linked militant group assassinated one of the FSA’s top commanders after a dispute in the port city of Latakia.
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- Conference “Arab Awakening and Peace in the Middle East: Muslim and Christian Perspectives” the role of Turkey