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Country Reports on Terrorism 2010 - Syria

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 18 August 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2010 - Syria, 18 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e524812c.html [accessed 23 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Overview: Designated in 1979 as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, Syria in 2010 continued its political support to a variety of terrorist groups affecting the stability of the region and beyond. Syria provided political and weapons support to Hizballah in Lebanon and allowed Iran to resupply the terrorist organization with weapons. The external leadership of Hamas, the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), among others, were based in Damascus and operated within Syria's borders. Statements supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizballah consistently permeated government speeches and press statements.

President Bashar al-Asad continued to express public support for Palestinian terrorist groups as elements of the resistance against Israel. Damascus historically has allowed exiled individuals safe haven in Syria and Hamas Politburo head Khalid Meshaal and his deputies continued to reside in Syria, while the Syrian government provided Meshaal security escorts for his motorcades. Though the Syrian government claimed periodically that it used its influence to restrain the rhetoric and activities of Palestinian groups, Meshaal freely traveled around Damascus and the Syrian government allowed Meshaal's use of the Syrian Ministry of Information as the venue for press conferences. Open source reports indicated that Hamas used Syrian soil as training grounds for its militant fighters.

Added to the terrorist operatives calling Damascus home, in 2010, Iraqi Baathists continued to congregate in the Syrian capital and some of them call for violence against the Iraqi government, Iraqi civilian targets, and American and coalition forces within Iraq. Al-Rai Television, a television station owned by Iraqi Baathist Mishaan al-Jaburi and broadcast from a suburban Damascus location, transmitted violent messages in support of terrorism in Iraq throughout the year.

Domestic Terrorism/Terrorist Incidents: The Syrian government stressed its success in achieving security and stability within its borders, and terrorist attacks on Syrian soil remained rare. However, a string of incidents over the past several years have increased concerns that militant groups can strike Syrian targets and have caused the authorities to strengthen their efforts to prevent attacks. Especially following a September 27, 2009 bombing near a Syrian security installation that killed 17, the regime has attempted to portray Syria as a victim of terrorism rather than a purveyor of it. In July 2010, the Syrian security services conducted a series of raids that netted operatives of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), accused of plotting and implementing terrorist attacks in neighboring Turkey.

Regional and International Cooperation: Syria continued its strong partnership with fellow state sponsor of terrorism Iran in 2010. Throughout the year, the countries exchanged frequent high-level visitors. Iranian President Ahmadinejad visited Damascus in February and September and President Assad visited Tehran in October. The Iranian National Security Advisor, Defense Minister, Foreign Minister, and Intelligence Chief all visited Damascus within the last year. Syria also allowed leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian groups resident in Syria to visit Tehran. Asad continued to be a staunch defender of Iran's policies, including Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Syria exhibited a mixed record on Iraq. Syria increased border monitoring activities, instituted tighter screening practices on military-age Arab males entering its borders, and expressed a desire to increase security cooperation with Iraq. These activities likely contributed to a decrease in Iraq-bound foreign fighters. At the same time, however, Syria remained a key hub for foreign fighters en route to Iraq and a safe haven for Iraqi Baathists expressing support for terrorist attacks against Iraqi government interests and coalition forces.

Attacks against coalition and Iraqi security forces and Iraqi citizens continued to have a destabilizing effect on Iraq's internal security. While Syria and Iraq returned their ambassadors to Baghdad and Damascus, respectively, in the autumn of 2010, Syrian and Iraqi security cooperation has been largely inactive since Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in August 2009 accused Baathists harbored by Syria of fomenting terrorism in Iraq.

Legislation/Law Enforcement: Syria has laws on the books pertaining to counterterrorism and terrorism financing/money laundering, but largely used these legal instruments against only those groups perceived as a threat to the regime or country. Opponents of the regime, including Islamist activists and Kurdish separatists, were frequently charged with violating counterterrorism statutes. Furthermore, these laws were not enforced against Hamas, Hizballah, or the various Palestinian rejectionist groups based in Damascus.

Countering Terrorist Finance: Syria remained a source of concern regarding terrorist financing. Industry experts reported that 60 percent of all business transitions were conducted in cash and that nearly 80 percent of all Syrians did not use formal banking services. Despite Syrian legislation that required money-changers to be licensed by the end of 2007, many money-changers in 2010 continued to operate illegally in Syria's vast black market, estimated to be as large as Syria's formal economy. Regional "hawala" networks remained intertwined with smuggling and trade-based money laundering, facilitated by notoriously corrupt customs and immigration officials, raising significant concerns that some members of the Syrian government and the business elite were complicit in terrorist financing schemes.

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