When, in 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became the leader (“emir” in Arabic) of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda, he knew he could count on the multiform support of Bashar al-Assad and his intelligence. The Syrian dictatorship then aimed at the anti-American insurrection in Iraq to establish Western troops there and move them away from its country. In addition, the different centres of power of the political police of Damascus have made considerable profits in supporting the guerrillas infiltrated through the Syria-Iraq border.
This is how the "Buttes Chaumont cell" (it indoctrinated some of the assailants of the January attacks in Paris, ed.), which sent French volunteers to Iraq via Syria, has been able to develop. This cell was dismantled in 2005 by the French judiciary, but many French jihadists were thus able to forge stable ties with Zarqawi and his group. This is the case of Boubaker al-Hakim held captive for six years in France who, on his release in 2011, established himself in Tunisia and there he founded the armed wing of the Ansar al-Sharia (“Partisans of Sharia”) jihadist group. Just like the case of brothers Sherif and Said Kouachi who collaborated regularly with the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda. All these extremists have closely followed the transformation of al-Qaeda in Iraq, after Zarqawi’s death in 2006, into the “Islamic State”.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was put in charge of the “Islamic State of Iraq” in 2010. The territories then controlled by jihadists in Iraq were drastically reduced and it took all the support of the security apparatus in neighbouring Syria to prevent the “Islamic State of Iraq” from being eliminated. The outbreak of the democratic uprising in Syria in spring 2011 offered an historic opportunity to Iraqi jihadists: indeed Assad decided to free jihadist prisoners en masse so that they could go to swell the ranks of Baghdadi’s supporters.
This is how the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” known under its Arabic acronym as Da’esh, emerged in April 2013. Setting itself up in the city of Raqqa, just above the Euphrates river, Da’esh benefited greatly from the American retreat in August 2013: after declaring that the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime was a “red line”, the Obama Administration decided to remain passive despite the systematic use of chemical agents on the outskirts of Damascus.
Thus France, at the forefront of Western support for the Syrian revolution, was abandoned in the moment of truth by the United States. This American abandonment produced a peak in departures for the jihad throughout the world, because Da’esh laid claim to being the only true defender of Muslims in spite of an international community that had abandoned them to the mercy of Damascus. Baghdadi and Assad reinforce each other and, moreover, treat each other with ostentatious respect: all the territories conquered by the jihadists have been disputed against the revolutionary forces and never the Ba’athist regime.
This “third way” between Bashar al-Assad and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, advocated by France exposes it in the first place to the danger of hostage-taking by Da’esh in Syria. One of the captors, French citizen Mehdi Nemmuoche, was sent by Da’esh to Belgium in May 2014. After killing four people at the Jewish Museum of Brussels, he was stopped in Marseille in possession of a war arsenal. But it was only a first warning, followed in January 2015 by three attacks in Paris and its suburbs that caused 17 deaths (against Charlie Hebdo, a kosher supermarket and a policeman).
The choice of targets is less important than the desire to bring about blind reprisals against Muslims in France. For Da’esh, it is not only a question of demonstrating the futility of the “third way” defended in Syria by Paris, but also to bring down the model of republican coexistence, where France has the most important Muslim and Jewish communities in Europe. This strategy of terror was defeated by the citizen mobilization of January 11, 2015, in which millions of French citizens took to the streets of Paris and the province.
It is this counter-example offered by France to Europe that the terrorists wanted to hit again on November 13, 2015. And it is also this “third way” for Syria that they wanted to bury. Bashar al-Assad was not deceived in flaunting his satisfaction the day after the Paris attacks, which he blamed on the French authorities. This convergence between the power centres of Damascus and the murderers of Da’esh must be carefully considered if we want to draw all the lessons from the tragedy of Paris.