Syria presented the United Nations and the U.S. with information that indicates it was a group affiliated with al-Qaida, armed by Turkey, that slaughtered more than 100 civilians in their homes in Houla last week, according to informed Middle Eastern security officials.
The international community has widely condemned Syria, pinning the blame for the massacre on forces acting under the direction of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The massacre has further galvanized world opinion against Assad and has led to stepped-up calls by the opposition for the use of military force to oust the current Syrian regime. The U.S., Italy and Spain announced today they are expelling Syrian ambassadors after similar moves by France, Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada.
Much of the Western news media blamed Assad's troops for the massacre.
But underscoring the gap of information on the ground, many news media reports at first claimed the civilian deaths in Houla were caused by mortars and shelling by Assad's forces.
Now much of the news media is changing its tune, parroting a U.N. report that says most of the 108 victims of the Houla massacre were shot at close range, some of them women, children and entire families gunned down in their homes.
Survivors and witnesses cited by the U.N. blamed the house-to-house killings on pro-government thugs known as shabiha.
Largely unreported is Syria's claim that an armed terrorism element is behind the massacre.
Middle East security officials told WND Syria has sent information to the U.S., U.N. and other international bodies indicating the house-to-house slaughter was carried out by a group affiliated with al-Qaida that came from North Africa.
According to Syria, the jihad organization entered Syria via Turkey, where it was first armed. Syria did not blame Turkey directly for the massacre, the security officials said. The Syrian report stated Turkey likely believes the al-Qaida elements were going to fight Assad's regime.
For months now, Turkey has been hosting the Syrian opposition and agitating for international military intervention against Damascus.
Just last week, one Egyptian security official told WND there is a growing collaboration between the Syrian opposition and al-Qaida as well as evidence the opposition is sending weapons to jihadists in Iraq.
An Egyptian military attaché detailed the alleged collaboration between al-Qaida and the U.S.-aided opposition in Syria that operates under the banner of the National Free Army.
The purported cooperation extends to recent suicide attacks and bombings in Damascus and in the embattled Syrian city of Homs.
The military official told WND that Egypt has reports of collaboration between the Syrian opposition and three al-Qaida arms:
- Jund al-Sham, which is made up of al-Qaida militants who are Syrian, Palestinian and Lebanese;
- Jund al-Islam, which in recent years merged with Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group of Suuni Iraqis operating under the al-Qaida banner;
- Jund Ansar al-Allah, an al-Qaida group based in Gaza linked to Palestinian camps in Lebanon and Syria.
The Arab League, which has condemned Syria, previously privately recognized an armed terrorist element agitating against Assad's regime.
A leaked Arab League dispatch, posted in February by the Anonymous group, said Arab League monitors on the ground in Syria several times witnessed an "armed entity" provoking Syrian forces and placing civilian lives in danger.
That section of the classified report read: "The Mission determined that there is an armed entity that is not mentioned in the protocol. … In some zones, this armed entity reacted by attacking Syrian security forces and citizens, causing the Government to respond with further violence. In the end, innocent citizens pay the price for those actions with life and limb."
The Syrian opposition has stepped up its rhetoric after Assad was accused of last week's massacre.
Syrian National Council leader Burhan Ghalioun over the weekend threatened a "battle of liberation" against Assad's regime unless the U.N. takes action under Chapter Seven, which allows for international military intervention.
"I call on the Syrian people to lead a battle of liberation and dignity, relying on its own forces, on the rebels deployed across the country and the Free Syrian Army brigades and friends," he told a news conference in Istanbul.
Ghalioun said such a "battle" would be taken "unless the international community assumes its responsibilities under Chapter Seven" of the U.N. charter.