Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 - Syria

Since Syria's 1979 designation as a state sponsor of terrorism, it has continued to provide political support to Palestinian terrorist groups. Syria has also continued to provide political and material support to Hizballah since that group's creation. HAMAS, Palestinian 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, all have offices in Damascus and operate within Syria's borders. The Syrian government insisted that the Damascus-based groups are confined to political and informational activities, but Palestinian groups with leaders in Syria have claimed responsibility for anti-Israeli terrorist attacks.

As in 2006, President Bashar al-Asad expressed public support for Palestinian terrorist groups. HAMAS Politburo head Khalid Mishal and his deputies continued to reside in Syria, and the Syrian government provided security escorts for their motorcades. Additionally, Mishal led Friday prayers at various mosques throughout Syria and gave several public speeches expressing gratitude for Syria's support.

The regime in Damascus continued to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and security through its proxies. Although Syrian officials publicly condemned some acts of international terrorism, including bombing attacks that killed Lebanese government officials, it made a distinction between what it considered to be legitimate armed resistance by Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The Syrian government has not been implicated directly in an act of terrorism since 1986, although an ongoing UN investigation into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri continued to examine Syrian involvement. The Syrian regime, Hizballah, and pro-Syrian opposition elements in Lebanon have attempted to stymie international efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the Hariri assassination, as well as efforts to disarm militia groups that constitute a challenge to Lebanese security and sovereignty.

Separately, four Syrian members of Fatah al-Islam were arrested in connection with the February 13 Ain Alaq bus bombings in Lebanon. In March, Syrian Interior Minister, Major General Bassam Abdul Majeed, spoke publicly on the matter and rejected suggestions that the Syrian regime was involved in the attack. Syrian-linked groups were involved in several attacks outside of the country in 2007, including a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities also blame Syria for complicity in a September improvised explosive device (IED) attack that killed a member of the Lebanese parliament.

Syria continued to strengthen its ties with Iran, another state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian President Ahmadinejad, accompanied by the Iranian Defense Minister and the Iranian Army Chief of Staff, met with Syrian President al-Asad and other senior Syrian officials in July. During this visit, Ahmadinejad also met with Palestinian terrorist groups, including two separate meetings with the leaders of HAMAS and PIJ and a collective meeting with leaders of PFLP, PFLP-GC, Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Fatah al-Intifada. Additionally, local media reported that Hizballah leader Nasrallah met with Ahmadinejad at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus. Syria and Iran worked successfully to rearm Hizballah after the July-August 2006 conflict between Hizballah and Israel.

Although the Syrian government suspended intelligence cooperation with the United States and several foreign governments in 2004, Damascus has taken some action against AQ-linked groups and individuals in 2007. Additionally, the Syrian government worked to increase security cooperation with Iraq. In July, Syria hosted a meeting of technical border security experts representing Iraq's neighbors, the United States, and other countries. Syria also participated in two ministerial-level Iraq Neighbors' Conferences in May and November, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and Istanbul, respectively. In August, Syria hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and signed several security-related agreements. According to U.S. and Iraqi officials, 2007 witnessed a marked reduction in the flow of foreign terrorists transiting through Syria into Iraq.

Despite acknowledged reductions in foreign fighter flows, the scope of the problem remained large. According to the December "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq" report to Congress, nearly 90 percent of all foreign terrorists known to be in Iraq had used Syria as an entry point. The Syrian government could do more to stop known terror networks and foreign fighter facilitators from operating within its borders. Separately, the Syrian government has cracked down on pro-Kongra-Gel/Kurdistan Worker's Party (KGK/PKK) sympathizers in northeastern Syria, and President al-Asad expressed his public support of Turkish military action against KGK/PKK militants operating in southern Turkey and northern Iraq.

The Syrian government refused to implement mandatory visa requirements for citizens of Arab countries.

Syria remained a source of concern regarding terrorist financing. The Commercial Bank of Syria remained subject to U.S. sanctions. Industry experts reported that 70 percent of all business transactions were conducted in cash and only eight percent of all Syrians used formal banking services.


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