The Asad family regime in Syria has long been known to have had a key role in the formation and sustenance of the Islamic State (IS) and its predecessors. Without the Asad regime’s assistance, the IS movement could not have hoped to pose such a challenge to the Iraqi government, regional states, and Western interests and citizens. This has been underlined in a series of Federal Court rulings in the United States that have brought together evidence on this matter. In April, another such ruling found the Asad regime liable in the murder of three more Americans.
Virginia L. Foley, et al. v. Syrian Arab Republic, et al. was brought in April 2011 by the families of three men murdered by the IS movement.
Laurence Foley was an ambassador for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) when he was shot dead on the streets of Amman, Jordan, on 28 October 2002 by an operative acting on the orders of Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), IS’s founder. Numerous previous investigations of the case concluded that the assassination, planned in Damascus and executed by jihadists known to be playthings of Syrian intelligence, was effectively a joint operation between IS and Asad.
Staff Sgt. Keith Maupin was just 20-years-old when abducted by IS in Baghdad on 9 April 2004. A video appearing to show the slaughter of Maupin soon appeared and Maupin’s murder was confirmed in May 2008 when his body was discovered. One of the men responsible for Maupin’s death, Hammadi Awdah Abd Farhan (Haji Hammadi), was killed by the U.S. military in November 2008.
Finally, there is Kristian Menchaca. An IS ambush in Yusufiya, at the heart of the “triangle of death”, on 16 June 2006, directed by the local IS emir, Abu Usama al-Tunisi, killed Specialist David Babineau and kidnapped two Privates, the 23-year-old Menchaca and 25-year-old Thomas Tucker—all of the 101st Airborne Division. The bodies of Menchaca and Tucker were found within three days, and a video displaying their tortured and mutilated corpses was released on 10 July 2006.
The case filed by the families named four defendants: the Syrian state, Syrian Military Intelligence, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Asad, and Assef Shawkat.
Shawkat, Asad’s brother-in-law, was killed in July 2012 in mysterious circumstances. Shawkat had headed Military Intelligence between 2005 and 2009, and was thereafter Chief of Staff and Defence Minister. It was Military Intelligence that had responsibility for coordinating with the IS terrorists that the Asad regime harboured, trained, financed, and facilitated from before the Anglo-American invasion that brought down Saddam Husayn in 2003. To that end, Asad’s senior officials, often Shawkat personally, “met regularly” with IS jihadists. This was notably the case with Badran al-Mazidi (Abu Ghadiya), IS’s most important foreign fighter facilitator who moved the suicide bombers into Iraq. Al-Mazidi was killed by an American raid into eastern Syria in October 2008. Whether Shawkat attended or not, it is inconceivable he was unaware of the meeting near Damascus, attended by IS, elements of the fallen Saddam regime, and the Asad regime, which planned the massive atrocity in Baghdad on 19 August 2009.
Senior Asad regime operatives, usually trusted members of the family, interfacing with terrorist organizations, is standard practice. It was Jamil al-Assad, the brother of the then-ruler, Hafez (Bashar’s father), who oversaw relations with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) when it took shelter in areas of Syrian-occupied Lebanon, where it was nurtured for use as a weapon against Turkey. And Shawkat was also the point-man in Bashar’s relations with Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hizballah.
In September 2008, another U.S. Federal ruling went against the Syrian state, Military Intelligence, Asad, and Shawkat. The case, Francis Gates, et al. v. Syrian Arab Republic, et al., was brought by the families of Eugene “Jack” Armstrong and Jack Hensley, two U.S. contractors in Iraq, who were murdered on video by IS on 20 September and 21 September, respectively, in 2004. The ruling documented the close working relationship between Asad and Shawkat, and their certain knowledge about the operations of the total police state over which they both presided. These operations included “provid[ing] crucial support” to the IS movement, “without which they could not have entered Iraq or engaged in a long string of terrorist activities”, and “assistance to Zarqawi” and his organization that “led to the deaths by beheading of Jack Armstrong and Jack Hensley”. The families were awarded more than $400 million.
Asad and Shawkat were not named in Nadira Thuneibat, et al. v Syrian Arab Republic, et al., which in March 2016 found the Syrian state and Syrian Military Intelligence liable in the deaths of Lina Thuneibat, who was 9-years-old at the time, and Mousab Khorma, two of the sixty people massacred at the hotels in Amman in November 2005. The judgment, which ordered the Asad regime to pay the victims $350 million, noted that the bombings were conducted by Zarqawi and his organization …, which received material support and resources from” Asad and his military-intelligence apparatus.
Private citizens cannot sue foreign governments in American courts, except when they or their relatives have been the victims of state-sponsored terrorism, and the Syrian government—run by the Asad family and its related clans—has been designated as a State-Sponsor of Terrorism by the U.S. State Department since 1979.
The case has been so-long delayed because of the breakdown in diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Syria after the Asad regime began its exterminationist campaign against those who object to its rule. Additionally, although the Asad regime would not deign to appear in court to defend itself, it did engage in various administrative manoeuvres to try to hinder the case. Asad’s representatives claimed not to have been properly served with the legal papers, for example, and in May 2015 Asad’s attorney asked for more time to “look into the facts and circumstances of this case”.
Nevertheless, after a final hearing in November 2016, which Asad’s representatives refused to attend, “The case accordingly proceeded in a default setting”, and the court determined that the plaintiffs, who were able to draw on Gates and Thuneibat, had “established their claims by evidence satisfactory to the Court”.
The Foley ruling of April 2017 noted that “Syria provided material support to the Zarqawi Terrorist Organization” and other terrorist groups “throughout the relevant time period”, and this included, “among other things, providing them safe haven, weaponry, financial support, and even allowing them to open headquarters within Syria”.
The ruling adds:
One particularly significant way that Syria provided support to such groups was by allowing them to freely move through Syria and into neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Jordan, for the express purpose of killing Americans. …
This support was not hidden: Syria allowed the opening of a “special interest section” in downtown Damascus, directly across the street from the United States Embassy, where individuals could sign up and board a bus to Baghdad to “wage the jihad” against Americans. …
Syrian border checkpoints would allow foreign insurgents to pass through freely, stamping their passports with phrases such as “volunteer for jihad.” … Aware of Syria’s support, foreign fighters from various neighboring countries who sought to join the insurgency in Iraq would take extended routes so as to be able to enter through the Syrian-Iraqi border. …
Congress officially recognized this support that Syria was providing to terrorist groups in the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.
The court heard testimony that Asad was key in IS being able to threaten regional states beyond Iraq. “Without Syria, there would not have been a developed foreign fighter transit pipeline and an advanced funding network underwriting terrorist operations in Iraq and Jordan”, said one witness, and the court found sufficient evidence to validate this contention.
Asad opened Syria up as a safe haven for Zarqawi and his senior leadership. “Syria was the leading node for AQI, [and] several of Zarqawi’s key deputies and supporters based their operations out of the state”, the ruling noted.
The former vice-president of Syria said that the government he used to serve “struck an agreement with the Government of Iran to flood Iraq with insurgents to kill Americans”. The Iranian revolution’s approach to IS, which might be described as never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity to thwart the organization, is well-established all the way back to Zarqawi’s transit through Iran to Baghdad in May 2002. The Gates case hinted at this, noting that Zarqawi was “arrested by the Iranians” as he fled Afghanistan, but, “Since Iran is an ally of Syria, it released Zarqawi quickly because he had a Syrian passport”.
The Asad tyranny “also had a number of direct ties to the Zarqawi Terrorist Organization”:
For example, Abu Qaqa [Mahmud al-Aghasi], a cleric who helped Zarqawi found AQI, ran a Syrian government school and was on the Syrian government’s payroll. Additionally, Fawzi Mutlaq al-Rawi was appointed by Defendant Assad to be the head of the Syrian wing of the Iraqi Ba’th party, and in that role went on to directly provide material support to AQI, including funding, weapons and suicide bombers. Al-Rawi met with Syrian intelligence director, Asif Shawkat, and evidence suggests that he acted under the direction of the Syrian state.
The evidence was sufficient, the ruling noted, to conclude that “all named Defendants provided material support to the Zarqawi Terrorist Organization’s terrorist activity throughout the time period at issue” and this support to IS “was a matter of Syrian policy known and dictated from the highest levels, including Defendants Assad and Shawkat”.
The Asad regime and its allies, Iran and Russia, have turned the tide in the Syrian war, especially after the brutal conquest of Aleppo city in December. The cynical tactics of bolstering IS and jihadi-salafist insurgents to cannibalize and discredit the rebellion have done their work. Now Asad approaches the West in the garb of a bulwark against terrorism and the man who can turn off the refugee flow that is destabilizing Europe if he is provided with “reconstruction” money. Some in Europe are inclined to hand over such funds. Putting aside the moral abomination of retrospectively subsidizing Asad’s genocidal rampage and the rapacious criminality of what remains of the regime—not excluding trading in oil with IS—that would devour any resources channelled through the regime, Western finance to stabilize Asad’s regime would reward its use of IS as an instrument of its state policy against us for the last fifteen years.
* * *
 Asad’s attorney is William Ramsey Clark, once Lyndon Johnson’s attorney general, and subsequently a frontman for the Workers World Party (WWP), a communist outfit that broke away from the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) when the SWP opposed the Soviet Union’s crushing of the Hungarian uprising in 1956. The WWP looks favourably on North Korea and Red China, including Peking’s sanguinary decision to clear Tiananmen Square. In recent decades, Clarke has become infamous as the roving defence counsel for an international rogues’ gallery: Charles Taylor in Liberia, the Rwandan genocidaires like Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, Radovan Karadzic, Slobodan Milosevic, and Saddam. In Saddam’s case, Clark made the novel defence argument that while Saddam had conducted the massacre in question, he was quite justified in having done so.
Originally published at The Henry Jackson Society