Syrian crisis: Assessing defector Nawaf Fares' claims

Nawaf Fares: Chemical weapons 'may have been used'

Former Syrian diplomat Nawaf Fares, who defected last week, has said President Bashar al-Assad would not shy away from using chemical weapons on his own people, and has colluded with al-Qaeda to carry out attacks. But how valid are the claims, asks the BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner in Doha.

Nawaf al-Fares does not look at first glance like a man who has just defected from a regime he calls "murderous criminals".

Neatly dressed in suit and tie, he was until last week Syria's ambassador to Iraq and is the most senior diplomat to defect so far from the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.

Sitting now in a luxury hotel in the Gulf state of Qatar, he piles one accusation after another against the regime he served for 34 years.

Start Quote

I have built my opinion based on my knowledge of the regime's mentality and the government's mentality”

End Quote Nawaf al-Fares

"Bashar al-Assad's regime is like a cornered and wounded wolf," he tells me. "It will do anything to survive."

He accuses his former masters of colluding with al-Qaeda to carry out mass-casualty bombings on its own citizens to discredit the opposition. The Assads, he says, will never give up power through "political interventions", only if they are forced out.

He says the regime, if cornered further, "will not hesitate to use chemical weapons", and that they may have been "used partially in Homs".

'Opposition contact'

This is a serious allegation from a defector with some inside knowledge, but Mr Fares is not a scientist nor a soldier.

And his words have disturbing echoes of the sort of claims being trumpeted about Saddam's mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

I press him further. Is this just conjecture, I ask him, or do you have any evidence of that?

Smoke fills the air at the scene of two huge bomb explosions outside the Palace of Justice in Central Damascus on June 28, 2012. The Syrian government has blamed al-Qaeda for a number of bomb attacks

"It's absolutely certain that such issues are never discussed because it's very serious," he replies.

"If they decide to use chemical weapons they will not discuss it. I have built my opinion based on my knowledge of the regime's mentality and the government's mentality."

Nawaf Fares does of course have a vested interest in discrediting the regime which he has just deserted. He knows that unless or until it falls he can never go back.

He says he is in contact with elements of the opposition and hopes to return to "a free and democratic Syria".

'Doomed'

I put it to him that as a former senior Syrian security and intelligence official and provincial governor, many believe him to be complicit not just in violent crimes inside Syria but in Iraq too.

Here, Mr Fares is adamant. He denies any role in sheltering militants who have carried out bombings in Iraq and says he is willing to be judged on this in a court of law.

He goes further.

"All the bombings that have been committed (in Syria), especially the major ones with large number of innocent victims, are perpetrated by the regime," he says.

"The regime now is using al-Qaeda to strike the Syrian people."

He offers no proof of this, and I counter that this makes no sense as al-Qaeda has always condemned Bashar's rule, with al-Qaeda leader Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri calling him an apostate and urging jihadists to fight against him.

Mr Fares insists that it is an alliance of convenience. "Al-Qaeda is searching for space to move and for means of support, the regime is looking for ways to terrorise the Syrian people," he says.

At the end of the interview Mr Fares folds his hands in his lap as his chaperones glance at their watches.

"This regime is doomed," he concludes. The fact the fighting is now in Damascus "is hugely significant. It is the beginning of the end".

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