Syrian Cleric Calls For Suicide Attacks Against US, British Troops

Julie Stahl | Jerusalem Bureau Chief | Thursday, March 27, 2003

Syrian Cleric Calls For Suicide Attacks Against US, British Troops

Jerusalem ( - Syrian President Bashar Assad is calling on Arab states to defend Iraq while Syria's top religious authority has called for suicide attacks against U.S. and British troops fighting to topple the regime of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Assad, an outspoken opponent of the allied war against Iraq, said he hopes the Americans will fail, according to an interview published in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir on Thursday.

Assad called on the Arab states to invoke the joint Arab defense treaty, which calls on them to defend any Arab country that is being invaded, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

When asked if he thought the U.S. had Syria on a list of countries it intended to deal with, Assad replied that whether Syria is on a list or not, there is a chance it could be targeted. He also said he expected the war in Iraq to broaden to include other countries.

Syrian expert Dr. Yossi Olmert, who was involved in Israeli-Syrian negotiations during the 1990s, said the interview was "full of very aggressive remarks." But he did not want to guess at what the Syrian leader's intentions are.

Syria, on the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism, flatly refused an American request last year to close down the offices of Palestinian terrorist organizations in its capital. More than a dozen terrorist organizations are headquartered in Damascus.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said several months ago that Israel had intelligence information indicating that Saddam Hussein had moved his weapons of mass destruction to Syria.

Syria, which is the power-broker in Lebanon, also allows the Iranian-backed Hizballah to operate in southern Lebanon against Israel.

Experts have said they hope that the war against Iraq will send a signal to other rogue states in the region that they had better line up or they will face similar action.

Prior to the war in Iraq, the State Department ordered embassy staff and families out of Syria as well as Kuwait and Israel - fearing that those countries could be attacked in retaliation for a U.S.-led strike against Iraq.

Meanwhile, Syria's top Islamic cleric is calling on Muslims to use every means to stop the attack on Iraq.

"I call on Muslims to use all means possible to thwart the aggression, including martyr operations [suicide attacks] against the belligerent invaders," Syria's mufti Sheikh Ahmed Kaftaro said in a statement, a copy of which was reportedly faxed to the French news agency Agence France Presse.

"Resistance to the belligerent invaders is an obligation for all Muslims, starting with [those in] Iraq," Kaftaro was quoted as saying.

The mufti is not the first to call for suicide attacks against U.S. and allied troops. Weeks before the war ever started Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi called for an "army of suicide bombers" to confront any allied advance. Hamas is headquartered in Damascus.