As the violence in Syria escalates, it seems no one is safe.
A YouTube video posted this week reportedly shows a Syrian al-Qaida fighter and his cohorts executing a group of young men who claim to also be Sunni Muslims.
The alleged victims could be heard in the video pleading for their lives and shouting out, “We are Sunni Muslims too!”
Dutch human rights activist and Middle East analyst Martin Janssen verifies the authenticity of the video and the reality it reveals.
“On this video you hear one of the young man victims say that he is also a Sunni Muslim,” Janssen said. “The person who shot him answers that the shooters are al-Qaida and that they will know who al-Qaida is.”
American Enterprise Institute Middle East policy specialist Michael Rubin explains why al-Qaida fighters may be turning on some of their Sunni allies.
“Unity is a very transitory trait among Islamists. Even among the most radical groups, factions develop,” Rubin said. “And in a culture which brokers no dissent, the penalty is often death.”
Developments in the Syrian civil war this week were not limited to Muslim-on-Muslim violence.
Several news agencies this week have reported that embattled Syrian leader Bashir Assad has threatened to deploy and use chemical weapons, allegedly against the rebel army trying to overthrow him.
However, a report on the intelligence analysis web site Lignet says the Langley Intelligence group is skeptical of Syria’s threats and believes the threat is a bargaining chip to receive asylum in another country.
“Assad reportedly dispatched his deputy foreign minister to discuss the idea of asylum last week with officials in Ecuador, Cuba and Venezuela,” the Lignet report said.
Center for Security Policy Senior Fellow Clare Lopez says using the threat as leverage for an asylum deal is a real possibility and there are rumors flying about as to where Assad might seek asylum, but she suspects Assad isn’t ready to run up the white flag of surrender just yet.
“The regime is suffering setbacks but is not yet at the point of defeat,” Lopez said. “Much of the country is in rebel hands, but Assad still controls the capital Damascus, the airport, and other parts of the country.
“So this could still turn out to be a lengthy process of weeks or even months, with the final push perhaps eventual but not yet imminent,” Lopez said.
The Bulgarian Sofia News Agency had announced there were unconfirmed reports that Assad had left Syria and was on a plane for Russia, yet Janssen says his sources have told him Assad is still in Damascus, and Lopez confirms that Assad is still in control, for the time being.
Assad still holding the reins of power is the issue of concern, because as Lopez says, if Assad decides to use the chemical weapons, he has both the arsenal and the means to deliver them.
“Syria has one of largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in Middle East and perhaps anywhere. The weapons inventory Includes mustard gas, sarin and VX, the deadliest nerve gas known to man,” Lopez said. “They also have the weapons in what is called in binary form, meaning they have to mix two elements together to prepare the nerve agent for delivery.
“This condition is what’s been reported as happening in the news the last day or two,” Lopez continued. “Assad has both the munitions, with artillery shells and the launchers artillery, rockets and missiles for the delivery systems.”
She adds that those targeted by such attacks would be left with little hope of defense.
“There’s no defense against artillery-launched munitions or aerial-dropped bomblets loaded with sarin, except for gas masks and HAZMAT (hazardous materials) clothing and gear,” Lopez said.
Lopez says Syria also has a biological weapons program that it acquired from Iran and North Korea. This list of weapons includes some extremely deadly contents.
“The stockpile includes synthetic lab-created and genetically modified strains of anthrax, plague, smallpox – very deadly,” Lopez said. “The West has no defense, no vaccine.”
Lopez says the potential for Assad using the weapons against his own people is a real possibility.
“Yes, there’s concern Assad may turn these weapons on his own people and the multinational rebel forces fighting to oust him from power. But, really, exactly what could or would the U.S. be both capable and willing to do if he did?” Lopez asked.
There have been many reports this week that Assad may be planning an attack on Israel. Janssen says this means a widened and more destructive conflict.
“I am very afraid something terrible is going to happen,” Janssen said. “I read in a Jordanian newspaper that jihadist groups are crowding at the Israeli border in the Golan. The Jordanian newspaper suggested that they may use chemical weapons against the Israeli army just to get Israel involved.”
Lopez agrees that Israel being involuntarily drawn into the conflict is a possibility.
“There is also a concern I heard expressed today that Assad could turn these chemical weapons on Israel, out of pure malice, but also to expand the war and draw Israel into the conflict,” Lopez said. “Such a step could work to ensure Assad’s downfall, of course – or he might calculate that additional chaos might work somehow to his benefit – or maybe it could be just a Sampson option (killing oneself in an effort to destroy the enemy) for the Alawite ruler.”
Some analysts are raising the question of how Assad obtained his chemical weapons arsenal.
Lopez says that the American people already know one source for Assad’s arsenal.
“He probably got at least some of this from Saddam Hussein’s very-much-real WMD stocks, moved out of Iraq and on up the Euphrates river by trucks in the final weeks and months before the U.S. March 2003 invasion,” Lopez said.
But he also has an advanced, sophisticated and extensive indigenous production capability of his own, based out of various facilities and plants, all under military control.
In questioning then presidential press secretary Scott McClellan, WND also mentioned recent developments supporting the belief Saddam moved WMDs to Syria prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
“In the last two months, two former Iraqi officials have said Saddam moved weapons of mass destruction to Syria before the U.S. invasion. And now one of the documents released by the Pentagon yesterday, a letter by a member of Saddam’s intelligence apparatus, ties him to al-Qaida and the Taliban before 9-11. All of this, and yet the president does not talk about any of it with the American people,” stated WND.
Lopez says there is another scenario involving Syria’s chemical weapons – the possibility that they could end up under the control of a third party.
“Finally, there is the concern that Hezbollah already may have some of these weapons, munitions, and delivery systems and the training and expertise to be capable of handling them,” Lopez said.