Right-wing European delegation in Syria "fact-finding" mission

Published Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A delegation of ultra right-wing European politicians began a previously unannounced "fact-finding" mission in Syria on Tuesday to assess the presence of foreign fighters in the war ravaged country, a spokesperson for a British MEP said.

Nick Griffin, Member of the European Parliament from the British National Party, has taken part in the delegation which is meeting with Syrian officials to gauge the extent of involvement of European-based extremists, his spokesperson Simon Darby told Al-Akhbar.

"Specifically, we're looking for evidence of UK-based jihadists fighting for the Free Syrian Army, and of covert weapons shipments to Syria," Darby said, adding that the trip would last "a few days."

He said arrangements for the visit had been organized between several other politicians from Belgium, Russia and Poland at the invitation of Syria’s interior ministry.

Griffin posted a photo of himself next to Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi on Twitter.

No other politician has publicized the trip, and their identities were not immediately known. But Darby said he believed Filip Dewinter, member of the Flemish Parliament in Belgium, is also taking part.

Dewinter's spokesperson said she was unaware of such a trip, and could not confirm or deny his participation. Dewinter last Tweeted on Monday complaining of an “invasion” of immigrants with a photo of demonstrators waving Turkish flags outside a cathedral in Antwerp.

Griffin, who is also notoriously anti-immigrant, has been Tweeting about his Mideast trip since arriving to Lebanon on Monday. He posted some photos of Beirut, describing the city as "much less alien than the streets of London these days," adding that he has "not seen a burqa all evening."

He also Tweeted from the scene of a deadly twin-bombing after crossing into Damascus on Tuesday, writing that it smelled like a slaughterhouse, and denounced Britain’s foreign minister William Hague for his calls to arm Syria’s rebels.

Other Twitter users unleashed a barrage of insults against the 54 year-old BNP leader, a staunch holocaust denier, and who recently called South Africa's ailing anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela a "murdering old terrorist."

Syria’s unlikely alliance with the extreme-nationalist European politicians underscores its desperate attempt to regain international recognition after being shunned by most western and Arab governments.

The 27-member EU last November formally recognized the Syria’s opposition National Coalition as the sole representative of the Syrian people, and has repeated calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

And last month, the EU voted to lift an arms embargo on Syrian rebels which is set to expire on August 1. Britain and France said they reserved the right to begin arming rebels with weapons before that date.

But Europe has also expressed concern over the participation of hundreds of European-based Islamists fighting alongside the rebels.

A study published last month by King’s College London estimated that as many as 600 fighters from 14 European countries had traveled to Syria to take part in the conflict.