In a recent interview with Yahoo News, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad said that some of the refugees fleeing to the West from Syria are “definitely terrorists.”

When asked if he believes the number of terrorists among the refugees is substantial, Assad claimed it does not matter how few or how many there are, because it only takes a few bad people to commit heinous crimes of terror. In his words, “it’s not about the number, it’s about the quality, it’s about the intention.” To substantiate his point, Assad cited the September 11 attacks and the fact they were perpetrated by slightly over a dozen individuals only.

The interviewer asked Assad, if it is true there are some terrorists among the Syrian refugees in the West, then could it be that President Donald Trump was justified in instituting a Muslim ban. Assad did not provide a clear answer to this point, saying only that it was not his place, as a non-American, to interfere in what is clearly a question of U.S. national interest. Assad did say that he would ultimately prefer to see the refugees return, instead of migrating abroad.

During the interview, Assad also dismissed the possibility of safe-zones in his country, and referred to a recent Amnesty International report, which alleges that 13,000 individuals have been hanged in Syria’s Saydnaya prison since 2011, as “fake news.”

Though this is not the first time Assad has publicly rejected allegations of war crimes, or expressed his disapproval of safe-zones in Syria, it is the first time he has explicitly referred to refugees as “terrorists” in the Western press.

This is interesting if only because Assad previously spoke about Syrian refugees as blameless victims, and claimed that the foreign, Western-backed “Salafi terrorists” seeking to topple his democratically elected government are the sole reason for the refugee crisis. For Assad to now call those same, blameless refugees fleeing so-called foreign proxies “terrorists” brings into question the consistency of his narrative.

Even before Assad ever explicitly referred to Syrian refugees as “terrorists,” many journalists, academics, and political figures in the West were promoting similar ideas. For example, the self-declared leftist and Marxist, Slavoj Žižek, has argued that there are certainly “terrorists, rapists, and criminals” among the Syrians seeking refuge in the West. Australian Senator, Pauline Hanson, has also called the refugees terrorists and likened them to ISIS.

In all cases, spreading the baseless idea that Syrian refugees are terrorists is intended to fulfill one purpose: to entrench fear of the Other and help justify stricter border policies to suppress the flow of refugees into Western countries. For Assad, it is just another tactic in his propaganda campaign to further cripple the lives of his victims.

With no safe-zones in Syria, and no accountability for the regime’s endless war crimes, a lack of free movement for persecuted refugees practically ensures their demise.

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