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Viewing cable 06DAMASCUS427, SHEIKH CONFIRMS SARG INVOLVEMENT IN ESCALATING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06DAMASCUS427 2006-02-06 16:04 2010-12-27 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Damascus
VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHDM #0427/01 0371605
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 061605Z FEB 06
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6893
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0616
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L DAMASCUS 000427 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

PARIS FOR ZEYA; LONDON FOR TSOU 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2015 
TAGS: PGOV PREL SY
SUBJECT: SHEIKH CONFIRMS SARG INVOLVEMENT IN ESCALATING 
SITUATION IN DAYS PRIOR TO RIOTING 


Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Stephen A. Seche, per 1.4 b,d. 

1. (C) Summary: An influential Sunni sheikh provided 
details February 6 that seem to confirm SARG involvement in 
escalating the situation that led to the violent rioting in 
Damascus two days earlier, including communications between 
the PM's office and the Grand Mufti. He also noted that SARG 
authorities now seem intent on identifying a few scapegoats 
to be blamed for the incidents. The Danish Ambassador 
confirmed to us separately that the Minster of the Awqaaf had 
inflamed the situation the day before the rioting, with his 
remarks at Friday prayers in a mosque. End Summary. 

2. (C) , XXXXXXXXXXXX, head of the Abu Noor Islamic 
Institute and one of the most influential Sunni religious 
figures in Damascus, provided PolChief February 6 with his 
assessment of SARG involvement in the run-up to the violent 
February 4 demonstrations (and its reaction in their 
aftermath). He noted that PM Naji al-Otri several days 
before the demonstrations instructed the Grand Mufti Sheikh 
Hassoun to issue a strongly worded directive to the imams 
delivering Friday sermons in the mosques of Damascus, without 
setting any ceilings on the type of language to be used. 
Hasson complied with the order. (Note: Several Muslim 
contacts have confirmed that sermons based on these 
instructions were delivered, criticizing the publishing of 
the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, and condemning the 
actions of the Danish, Norwegian, and French governments. An 
Egyptian diplomat reported that the sermon he heard was 
critical but not inciteful.) 

3. (C) PM Otri also instructed Hassoun and Minister of the 
Awqaf Ayoubi that if diplomatic representatives from the 
Danish and Norwegian Embassies attempted to deliver apologies 
to them and to seek their assistance in defusing the 
situation, they were to take a hard line and insist that the 
only way forward was for the PM's of the two countries to 
issue official apologies. 

4. (C) The banners put up in Rawda Square were obviously put 
up with SARG permission. When XXXXXXXXXXXX had attempted to put 
up banners in that area on a previous occasion, to announce 
some Muslim-Christian dialogue effort, they were removed 
immediately and he was told it was a "security area" and he 
needed permission from the governorate of Damascus to put up 
such banners because of all the diplomatic missions and 
protective security forces in the area. 

5. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that one of the key organizers of the 
march was Ammar Sahloul, a wealthy businessman (money trader) 
with close ties both to the regime and to the Grand Mufti. 
XXXXXXXXXXXX suspects him of being an agent for the SARG. He said 
that Sahloul had been one of the people involved in sending 
out text messages a few days before the demonstrations, 
inviting people to come. 

6. (C) After the Danish Embassy was attacked (along with the 
Swedish and Chilean missions housed in the same building) and 
the Norwegian Embassy was torched, Syrian security officers 
acted much more resolutely to prevent damage at the French 
Embassy.  XXXXXXXXXXXX's friend Ayoubi, the Minister of the 
Awqaaf, was on the scene trying to calm the demonstrators and 
get them to disperse. Ayoubi told XXXXXXXXXXXX that the senior 
Syrian security officer then informed him "That's it. Tell 
them to disperse or we will use live ammunition" to stop the 
rioting and to prevent them from storming the Embassy. 

7. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX assessed that the SARG allowed the rioting to 
continue for an extended period and then, when it felt that 
"the message had been delivered," it reacted with serious 
threats of force to stop it. He described the message to the 
U.S. and the broader international community as follows: 
"This is what you will have if we allow true democracy and 
allow Islamists to rule." To the Islamic street all over the 
region, the message was that the SARG is protecting the 
dignity of Islam, and that the SARG is allowing Muslims 
freedom on the streets of Damascus they are not allowed on 
the streets of Cairo, Amman, or Tunis. 

8. (C) After the rioting, XXXXXXXXXXXX said he was visited by 
representatives of several SARG security agencies, including 
Political Security and Syrian Military Intelligence. He was 
summoned by director of the General Intelligence Directorate 
Ali Mamluk. The tone of all the questioning indicates the 
SARG is now energetically looking for scapegoats to blame for 
the rioting, said , XXXXXXXXXXXX. He said he surprised Mamluk by 
acknowledging that a number of students from his institute 
had participated in the early stages of the demonstrations 
but had withdrawn before the violence started at the Danish 
Embassy. 

9. (C) The Danish Ambassador told Emboffs February 6 that he 
had met with the Minister of the Awqaaf on February 2 (and 
separately with the Grand Mufti) to explain the Danish 
position and ask for help in cooling tempers. He noted that 
the while the Mufti issued a helpful statement, the ministers 
reported comments on Friday in a mosque in the upscale Malki 
neighborhood only served to inflame the situation. His 
repeated efforts to with the MFA the days before the rioting 
to get beefed up security for the Embassy proved fruitless, 
he noted. 
SECHE