On July 25, Islamic State (IS) attacked the Druze-majority Syrian province of Sweida, with four suicide bombers blowing themselves up in the main town, while hundreds of fighters swept into nearby villages. (Six additional suicide bombers were stopped before they could detonate their payloads.) The attacks left 273 dead and almost an equal number wounded—including women and children. While IS acted out of a clear-cut religious motivation, since it considers the Druze infidels who ought to be put to death, there is ample evidence that they received assistance from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. This would not be the first time that Assad gave the lie to the claim, frequently heard from his sympathizers, that he is a potential ally in the fight against IS. Anne Speckhard and Ardian Shajkovci write:
[W]hen the Syrian uprising of 2011 turned violent, Druze leaders decided to stay neutral in the conflict. They called those [Druze] serving in the Syrian army to desert and return home. . . . [T]he Assad regime and IS at this moment have a coincidence of interests that is hard to mistake. Assad currently is readying his troops and Russian- and Iranian-backed allies to attack the jihadist militants in Idlib, [far to the north of Sweida], and the Druze leaders we talked to feel that their people were directly punished for not agreeing to join the Syrians in that operation. . . .
Assad’s alleged complicity with IS is long, gruesome, and well documented. Recently he has had a policy of allowing armed militants to escape from cities in buses, ostensibly to reduce the risk of civilian casualties. . . . We have interviewed, now, 91 men and women who defected from IS or were taken prisoner by the forces fighting it. They have told us that IS sold grain and oil to the Syrian government while in return they were supplied with electricity, and that the Syrians even sent in experts to help repair the oil facility in Deir ez-Zour, a major city in southeast Syria, [then] under IS protection.
Early in the rebellion, Bashar al-Assad released al-Qaeda operatives and other jihadists from his prisons to make the case that he was fighting terrorists, not rebellious people hoping for democracy. One of those jihadists he released, known as Alabssi, was one of the IS leaders in the battle in Sweida.
Where did the fighters come from who carried out the massacre in Sweida? Ten IS fighters were captured and hundreds killed. According to our sources 83 ID cards were recovered. Most were Chechens, Palestinians from the Syrian [refugee] camps, and some Saudis. There was a Moroccan and a Turkman among them, a Russian, and a Libyan, as well as some Iraqis.