The “moderate” rebels in Syria were not moderate at all, the recent scandal in the Netherlands has demonstrated yet again. Faced with mounting legal problems, the Dutch government has been forced to cut loose the jihadists. At least one prosecutor seems to believe that the government committed a crime.
According to Public Prosecutor Ferry van Veghel, the so-called “moderate” Ahrar al-Sham is indeed a terrorist organisation. He says that the Public Prosecutor has indicted Dutch citizens for participation in the movement. According to Van Veghel, there is no difference between jihadist, extremist and terrorist organisations. “All organisations whose purpose is to establish a caliphate in Syria, which aim to frighten civilians, they can be regarded as a terrorist organisation according to the law.”
And the presence of these armed groups at “democratic conferences” organised by the United States and its allies, makes no difference he says: “I think it is always good to judge organisations mainly on their actions and not so much on their words.”
Ahrar al-Sham was no longer considered “radical” in December 2015, even though the officials of ministers Koenders reported on the human rights violations committed by the combat group.
The group on May 12, 2016, together with ally Al-Qaida, was responsible for a bloodbath in the village of al-Zara. A picture of the slaughter shows how two fighters, with camouflaged hats on and with machine guns in their hands, stand on the bodies of at least two women. The women were shot dead shortly before. Human Rights Watch reported this massacre. A month later Ahrar al-Sham committed a suicide attack in the province of Aleppo.
Jabhat al-Shamiya, also known as the Levant Front, is an umbrella group for Turkey-backed rebel fighters based in northern Syria. In 2016, Amnesty International accused it of carrying out summary executions and establishing sharia courts.
Relief supplies offered to combat groups can also be punishable, because it is a contribution to the conflict and possibly even terrorist financing, Van Veghel argues. “If you send pick-up trucks, you enable someone to travel, you enable an organisation to be able to get from A to B.” Van Veghel concluded in a strict tone: “If you in any way play a role in that battle, either active as a combatant, or less active but in such a way that you enable another person to take part in that battle, then you will face criminal responsibility.”
At Trouw and Nieuwsuur’s request for a general list or qualification system showing which groups in Syria are considered “moderate”, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed to the official terrorism lists of the EU and the UN. Many terrorists can be found on these lists, but no “moderates”. There is no system for “moderate” fighters and no lists are kept, according to a spokesman. An overview of all “moderate” groups in Syria eleven weeks after submission of the request, has not been forthcoming.
The former leftist minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders (PvdA) reported to the Lower House in April 2015 that the government would support the “moderate armed” opposition in Syria.
Koenders promises the MPs that it was not about weapons but only about so-called non-lethal equipment: food parcels, medical kits, clothing, communication equipment. Later “medical vehicles” were added. In January 2018, the term “vehicles” suddenly dropped the “medical” qualification.
Joël Voordewind of the Christen Unie party immediately expressed his doubts. He submitted a motion asking the government to refrain from the aid because he feared that the goods may fall into the wrong hands.
Voordewind asked the government not to send the money to armed groups but to spend it on humanitarian aid in Syria. His motion was supported by other parties, but was not accepted. Voordewind heard during a visit to Syria that the “rebels” of the Free Syrian Army had wanted to work with everyone who fought against Assad. At home he expressed his concerns in the chamber. The PVV wanted the support to stop. The CDA raised the issue between 2015 and 2018 at least six times.
Pieter Omtzigt (CDA) wanted to know which groups the Netherlands had supported in order to check whether they have been guilty of war crimes. “It makes quite a difference whether such a group has received an ambulance or an armored vehicle”. But in the summer of 2018 – and in the middle of the research by the two media outlets, the government suddenly declared the entire NLA program a state secret.
“This [new news report] screams for an answer,” Omtzigt told AFP late on Monday. Omtzigt added that the cabinet was bound to a deadline on Tuesday in which it had to provide answers. He said fellow Christian Democratic Appeal lawmaker Martijn van Helvert had also asked cabinet on numerous occasions to explain the Netherlands’ position.
Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, MP for the far-left D66 party, described the report as “shocking”. He told the ANP national news service: “How did this happen, despite all the warnings by lawmakers?”
Legal trouble is also facing the German government after the US asked the Merkel administration to participate in “retaliatory” regime change strikes against the Syrian government forces.
The Russian Federation believes another false flag “chemical” incident in Syria will be staged soon to justify the “retaliatory” strike. Several high ranking members of Chancellor Merkel’s party want to participate in the latest planned US attack. But the Scientific Services of the German Bundestag – the equivalent of the US Congressional Research Service – has released an authoritative legal opinion on the issue.
Such an attack would be illegal under international law and it would also violate the German constitution. There will be no official German support for such a wider attack on Syria. In an earlier opinion the Scientific Service also found that the continued US presence in Syria was illegal.
The Dutch newscaster NOS Nieuwsuur and the daily newspaper Trouw revealed that the Dutch government until very recently spent ten of millions of euros to provide jihadists in Syria with pick-up trucks, uniforms, satellite phones, cameras, medical kits, tents and rubber mattresses.
These “non-lethal” aid supplies were of course used in the armed struggle against the Syrian government.
Both Trouw and Nieuwsuur decided to carry out further research into the NLA program. In recent months, both media outlets have been talking to about 100 rebel leaders and those involved in the NLA program, and have succeeded in determining which groups the Netherlands has been supporting.
These turned out to be the Sultan Murad Brigade, the Suleyman Shah Brigade, Suqour al Jabl and Division 13 of the Free Idlib Army, Brigade 51 and Jabhat al-Shamiya. Commanders from these groups have spoken to Dutch journalists, describing in detail what kind of goods they had received from the Netherlands.
The Public Prosecution Service has actually prosecuted Dutch Syria volunteers for joining such brigades of the Free Syrian Army. The Dutch Syrian Driss M, had to appear in court on March 21, 2017, accused of having participated in the Islamist group Jabhat al-Shamiya in 2014 and 2015.
According to the Public Prosecution Service, this is a “salafist/jihadist organisation that seeks to establish a caliphate, and is part of the jihadist Ahrar al-Sham. But at the same time, Jabhat al-Shamiya is also part of the Free Syrian Army supported by the Netherlands and described as “moderate”.