Since the beginning of the Syrian uprising, the regime has been blaming everything on terrorists and armed gangs of Salafis, Ikhwan, al-Qaeda and so on. This began when the Mukhabarat, the Shabbiha and the military were shooting peaceful demonstrators. First, the regime claimed that it was these terrorists doing the shooting. Then it claimed that armed elements were attacking them from amongst the demonstrators. Trying to prove their bizarrely ridiculous claims, random videos were shown of armed, bald, bearded and traditionally clothed men in Hama. More reports were coming in of such people roaming around the streets of Homs. In the meantime, the fame of Salafi Shaykhs (often Syrians) from abroad who supported the revolution and incited against the regime began to grow.
When the situation transformed from demonstrators facing military aggression, into defectors from the military and locals defending their neighbourhoods, resistance groups named after the now (in)famous al-A`rour and even Yazeed popped up. Polemics against `Alawites and Shi`ites came to dominate the discourse in these circles and the sectarian incitement went so far that there was even talk of throwing `Alawites into the meat-grinder, raiding `Alawite villages, executing their men and enslaving their women and children.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, too became involved, and not long after came the suicide bombings. There have been about a dozen so far, particularly in Aleppo and Damascus, most of which were claimed by a new group that emerged called Jabhat al-Nusra. This group is lead by a certain al-Julani (a Syrian), while consisting of mainly Syrians who fought in Iraq [in accordance to regime’s export policy at the time]. Recently Abu Basir al-Tartousi was spotted with a group of fighters in Syria; which is not as bad as it sounds due to his opposition to al-Qaeda and now Jabhat al-Nusra.
Earlier, Mufti Ahmad Hassoun threatened Europe and America with suicide bombers, and not long after the regime released Abu Mus`ab al-Suri (‘the 7/7 mastermind’) from jail after holding him since 2005, when he was captured by the CIA in Pakistan. Salafism of various sorts is an increasing reality in Syria, it is developing locally as well as under outside influence. It is a revolutionary movement that stands out in the face of the horrors committed by the regime and the lack of alternatives being offered by the Sunni religious leadership, if not worse. The regime benefits from this, because it makes the story that they are trying to sell to the Syrian people and to the world become a reality. They therefore incite it, and there may very well be some cases in which it’s hard to distinguish between the two.