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A Syrian plan to attack protesters?

Photo shows a document in Arabic that purportedly is a plan drafted by Syrian intelligence officials to discredit protesters against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Photo shows a document in Arabic that purportedly is a plan drafted by Syrian intelligence officials to discredit protesters against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. NBC News
/ Source: NBC News

A document purportedly drafted by senior Syrian intelligence officials details a chilling plan to infiltrate the ranks of anti-regime protesters, arrest and assassinate their leaders, and link anti-regime demonstrations to the work of “Zionist” and other outside agitators.

The document was circulated by Syrian opposition figures Wednesday and cited by dissidents as fresh evidence of the brutality of the regime of President Bashar Assad. “It is very scary — this is the work of a Mafia state,” said Radwan Ziadeh, a prominent Syrian human rights activist and visiting scholar at George Washington University, who said he obtained the document from sources inside Syria on Tuesday night.

U.S. officials told NBC News that they were reviewing the document and could not immediately authenticate it. NBC was also unable to independently verify the document. But one U.S. official said the initial view is that there is a “strong likelihood” that it is real. “It would not be surprising if the Syrians are plotting the use of dirty methods to discredit its opponents,” the official said.

The Syrian Embassy in Washington did not respond to email and telephone requests for comment.

The document comes amid intense political debate inside the Obama administration and Congress over how tough a stand the U.S. government should take toward Assad’s regime. By purportedly showing the extreme measures that Assad’s top officials are willing to take toward demonstrators, the document would appear to strengthen the hands of hard-liners and dissidents like Ziadeh who argue the regime is unwilling to reform and should be ostracized.

“No leniency shall be observed with regards to smearing the image of our highest symbol” — a reference to Syrian President Bashar Assad — “regardless of the costs,” according to an English translation of the Arabic language document provided to NBC. The plan also calls for banning news media coverage of the protests and punishing those “who convey any news that does not serve the country,” adding that the security services should “show no leniency in this matter.”

The document is dated March 23, when anti-regime protests were starting to spread. It purports to describe a meeting that day of a special “Security Committee” inside the country’s General Security Directorate, the chief internal security agency.

Ziadeh said the initials of those attending the meeting indicate that the group included Muhammed Nasif Khaybrik, a top adviser to Assad and deputy vice president for security affairs, who serves as the chief Syrian government liaison to Iran. (The U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against Nasif and three other Syrian officials in 2007 for their role in fomenting violence in Lebanon in order to reassert Syrian control over that country.) Another whose initials indicate he attended the meeting was Maj. Gen. Ali Mamuk, the former chief of state security who serves as the top security adivser to Assad, Ziadeh said.

The purpose of the meeting, according to the document, was to make sure that the Assad government benefits “from the mistakes of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes” as well as from its past experience in suppressing the Muslim Brotherhood —a reference to a brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood by Assad’s father in 1982. It outlines what it describes as a highly detailed three-pronged media, security and political plan to suppress the protests.

Among the key elements, according to the document:

  • “Link the anti-regime demonstrations and protests to figures hated by the Syrian populace such as the usual Saudi and Lebanese figures, and connecting the lot of them to Zionism and to America.”
  • Assign security agents to work “via Facebook” to “jam up” political opponents. In particular, it suggests that security agents using “pseudonyms” pose as political dissidents and then gather intelligence about the opposition as well as “slip in” messages that would tarnish the reputations of leading dissident figures. Opposition figures should also become the target of lawsuits designed to “smear their moral and religious reputations.”
  • The locations of political protests should be blocked off and civilian-clothed security agents should infiltrate the protests “in an attempt to cause a state of chaos.” In order to further “deceive the enemy,” snipers should be concealed in the ranks of the protesters and be given the leeway to shoot some security agents or army officers, “which will further help the situation by provoking the animosity of the army against the protesters.”
  • Any areas where the protests get out of control should be isolated, with the electricity and Internet links cut off. Then, the plan calls for the “arrest of key influential figures in that area, and if the situation is critical, to kill them.” But the plan cautions, when security forces and snipers enter protest areas, “the number of people killed must not exceed twenty each time, because it would let them be more easily noticed and exposed, which may lead to situations of foreign intervention.”
epa02686087 A handout photo provided by Syria's official news agency SANA shows people marching at the funeral procession for Syrian solider Anwar Ahmed al-Dhaher at al-Salamiya city near Banias in southern Syria, on 13 April 2011. Al-Dhaher is one of nine officers from a military unit who apparently were gunned down in an ambush by unidentified gunmen on 11 April at the Latakia-Banias highway. Syria has been wracked by more than three weeks of protests amid mounting cries for sweeping reforms. Syria blames the unrest on armed gangs and foreign conspiracy. EPA/SANA HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALESSana Handout / SANA HANDOUT

Ziadeh said the best evidence of the document’s authenticity is the continued reports about the regime’s suppression of the protests. On Wednesday, according to media reports from The New York Times and others, the government’s crackdown intensified.

After four pro-democracy protesters were killed in the port city of Baniyas on Sunday, checkpoints blocked off access to the city and government security forces mounted a violent raid on a nearby village — with men and women pulled into a town square and “collectively beaten” — purportedly as punishment for offering refuge to the protesters, according to accounts from human rights advocates.