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Inside Syria
Is Syria's uprising being hijacked?
As the uprising in Syria escalates, we ask if there is a danger that the country will become a playground for al-Qaeda.
Last Modified: 19 Feb 2012 07:50

Zhai Jun, China's vice foreign minister, is in Damascus for talks.

"From day one when this crisis started in Syria there was an armed element attached to this so-called revolution."

- Jawan Rashad, a member of the Syrian Social Club

The visit comes after the UN General Assembly passed a resolution condemning the ongoing violence in the country.

Zhai has backed President Bashar al-Assad's plans for a referendum followed by parliamentary elections. But Beijing maintains that it is opposed to the use of sanctions or military force against Syria.

The Chinese vice foreign minister will also be meeting Syrian opposition figures during his visit.

But with the unrest escalating within the country, there are now fears that external forces are influencing the conflict.

"Al-Qaeda is clearly a defeated, discredited organisation. The 'Arab Spring' [showed] that its methods are rejected by the people of the Arab world .... The uprising in Syria started peacefully and continued to be peaceful ... until the regime started to use its own military forces to suppress the uprising."

- Louay Safi, a member of the Syrian National Council

The Syrian government has accused foreign fighters, including members of al-Qaeda, of smuggling weapons into the country.

And Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader, has recently stated his support for the Syrian opposition.

Colonel Arif Nour al-Hammoud of the Free Syrian Army has warned about the danger of the uprising being infiltrated. He told Al Jazeera: "We urge the international community to act as quickly as possible to solve the Syrian crisis so as not to have a future where these organisations will have a part. Syria now is a country losing control and it is an open country and this might lead to others seizing opportunities to enter a country that is out of control."

So, are jihadists hijacking Syria's opposition? Will Syria become a jihadist playground? Would the collapse of the Syrian state increase the likelihood of a regional sectarian war, from which al-Qaeda would greatly benefit?

Joining Inside Syria to discuss this are: Walid Phares, an adviser to the anti-terrorism caucus in the US House of Representatives and author of The coming revolution: Struggle for freedom in the Middle East; Jawan Rashad, a member of the Syrian Social Club - a group of UK-based Syrians supporting government-led reform; and Louay Safi, the chair of the police office of the Syrian National Council.

"Al-Qaeda was present in Syria before the revolt began .... The regime itself had aided, not probably al-Qaeda directly, but Salafi jihadists across from Syria into Iraq [to] fight with the insurgents in Iraq .... Washington doesn't believe that al-Qaeda is leading [the insurgency], but believes that al-Qaeda is trying to take advantage of the long-term crisis that exists today in Syria."

Walid Phares, an adviser to the anti-terrorism caucus in the US House of Representatives 
Source:
Al Jazeera
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