The Washington Post reports that “the FBI has interviewed Syrian activists in Washington and expressed concerns about their safety, according to local opponents of the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.”
There are good reasons for the FBI’s concern. Activist Hala Abdul Aziz, a Syrian immigrant who lives in Alexandria, got an ominous phone call warning that her daughter, who still lives in Syria, would “vanish” if she didn’t drop a human-rights civil suit against the Syrian government. Her father was murdered by the Assad regime during its crackdown on democracy activists.
The State Department has heard reports of Syrian Embassy personnel conducting surveillance of protesters against the Assad regime here in the United States, and was considering “retribution” against their family members in Syria. This prompted the State Department to invite the Syrian ambassador in for a little chat. The ambassador denied all allegations.
Although the FBI won’t comment directly on its operations, several Syrian scholars and activists report telephone and personal contact with FBI agents in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, back in Syria, the mulching of democracy activists continues apace. Dozens more have been killed in recent days, including ten people gunned down by Syrian security forces indulging in one of their favorite pastimes: opening fire on a funeral procession. There were mass arrests in Damascus over the weekend, and Amnesty International fears that dozens of prisoners held incommunicado by the regime could face torture.
Like most of the “Arab Spring” uprisings, the rebellion against Assad has always had sectarian undertones, but they have become more overt recently – a sign the regime’s control over its populace may be slipping. The Wall Street Journal has heard reports that some of the violence raging through the big Syrian cities could be civilians from different religions groups attacking each other. The majority of the Syrian population is Sunni Muslim, but Assad and the ruling class hail from the Alawite sect of Shi’a Islam.
It’s tough sledding when a dictator finds himself in the middle of a religious war, and his sect is vastly outnumbered. Sectarian issues are rumored to be degrading the willingness of his goon squads to carry out their kill orders. Syria will get worse before it gets better… but if Assad is really desperate enough to be considering reprisals against activists living beyond his borders… and thus openly provoking a U.S. government that has gone out of its way to be patient with him… there’s hope that it might just get better, after all.