‘Terrorism exported to Middle East from Europe’ – Assad
In the ongoing civil war in Syria government forces have been fighting terrorists since the very beginning of the conflict in its third year, said Assad in an interview with Paris Match news magazine given in late November and published on Wednesday.
“Even in the first days of the events, there were martyrs from the army and the police; so, since the first days of this crisis we have been facing terrorism,” he said answering a question whether the conflict could have been managed differently with the appearance of the first signs of the March 2011 revolution.
The civil war was preceded by violent anti-government protests and unrest, considered to be an extension of the Arab Spring that swept through the Middle East and North Africa supported by radical Islamist groups including Al-Qaeda.
“Let’s be honest: had Qatar not paid money to those terrorists at that time, and had Turkey not supported them logistically, and had not the West supported them politically, things would have been different. If we in Syria had problems and mistakes before the crisis, which is normal, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the events had internal causes,” Assad said.
He explained that currently Syria is fighting against “not only gangs”, but also states that support them with “billions of dollars.”
“This is not a war between two armies where you can say that they took a certain part and we took another part. The war now is not like that. We are talking about terrorist groups which suddenly infiltrate a city or a village,” he elaborated.
He refuted claims that the Syrian government supports Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS) militants, which are on the rampage in parts of Syria and Iraq, calling them absurd.
“The truth is that ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006. It was the United States which occupied Iraq, not Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi [IS leader] was in American prisons, not in Syrian prisons. So, who created ISIS, Syria or the United States?”
Terrorism is an ideology which twenty years ago was exported to the West from Sunni Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Assad stated. He believes that the process has reversed with terrorists coming to the Middle East from Europe and “especially France”.
“The largest percentage of the European terrorists coming to Syria is French; and you had a number of incidents in France. There was also an attack in Belgium against a Jewish museum. So, terrorism in Europe is no longer asleep, it is being awakened.”
The Syrian president also jokingly noted that the competitor of the President Francois Hollande in France is now ISIS “because Holland’s popularity is close to that of ISIS.”
‘Syria will not be a Western puppet state’
The Syrian Opposition Coalition, formed in 2012 in Qatar and supported by the US, has been calling for Assad to resign. President Barack Obama’s administration repeatedly said conflict in Syria can only be solved if Assad steps down as president.
In turn, Assad said that “no president can be installed or deposed through chaos”, citing the devastating results of Libya – when in 2011 the civil war and ousting of Muammar Gaddafi led to the increase of insurgency and a new wave of strife ongoing on the country.
“Chaos ensued after Gaddafi’s departure. So, was his departure the solution? Have things improved, and has Libya become a democracy?” he questioned.
He added that remaining president had never been his objective but he will not allow Syria to fall and become a “Western puppet state”. Assad compared the country to a ship and the president to its captain, which cannot abandon the vessel if it’s sinking.
“The state is like a ship; and when there is a storm, the captain doesn’t run away and leave his ship to sink. If passengers on that ship decided to leave, the captain should be the last one to leave, not the first.”
Syria’s president criticized the air strikes conducted by the US-led coalition targeting the militants in Syria saying that there strikes are “merely cosmetic” and “terrorism cannot be destroyed from the air.”
“That’s why, and after two months of the alliance’s airstrikes, there are no tangible results on the ground in that direction,” he said. “And that’s why saying that the alliance’s airstrikes are helping us is not true.”
Assad reiterated that strikes are an illegal intervention because they have not been authorized by a UN Security Council resolution and do not respect the sovereignty of Syria.
He stressed that the Syrian army has been conducting ground operations as well as airstrikes against terrorists which are larger than that those launched by the alliance.
“We are the ones fighting the battles against ISIS on the ground, and we haven’t felt any change, particularly that Turkey is still extending direct support to ISIS in those regions,” he said.