Meanwhile, Syria has come to regret decades of providing sanctuary for terrorists (both Islamic and otherwise). Since the 1960s, terrorists knew they could find shelter in Syria as long as they followed the code (no terrorism inside Syria and willingness to do some work for the Syrians from time to time and provide information to Syrian intelligence). As a result, many international terrorists became familiar with Syria and the fact that a Shia (Alawite) minority (the Assad clan) ruled a Sunni Arab (80 percent) country. Stranger still was the fact that from the 1980s on Syria became a client of Iran (the power behind Shia terrorism worldwide). This did not sit well with Sunni Islamic terrorists (like al Qaeda) who saw Shia as heretics to be killed. But the need for a sanctuary kept most of the Sunni terrorists in Syria quiet most of the time. The few exceptions were dealt with swiftly and brutally by the Assad secret police. After 2003, the Syrians allowed Islamic terrorists to enter the country and head for Iraq. This involved several thousand men, most of whom did not survive their experience in Iraq. At its peak in 2006-7, 50-100 Islamic terrorists a month were entering Iraq from Syria.
Saudi Arabia, where most of these Islamic terrorists came from, were quietly pleased with how the fighting in Iraq greatly depleted the number of al Qaeda backers inside Saudi Arabia. Over 5,000 Saudi Islamic radicals are believed to have died in Iraq by 2007. Nearly half the suicide bombers were Saudis. About 45 percent of the foreign fighters (less than ten percent of all terrorists in Iraq) were Saudis. The next largest group was Syrians and Lebanese (15 percent), followed by North Africans (10 percent). The other 30 percent were from all over, including Europe.
The Saudis themselves were coy about how all those Saudi Islamic radicals got into Iraq. The Saudi border with Iraq was heavily patrolled and not easy to get across, no matter which direction you are going. But the Saudis refused calls to crack down on their young men going to Syria or Jordan and crossing from there into Iraq. It was believed that the Saudi government made special arrangements to get Saudi Islamic terrorists into Iraq. There were also plenty of professional smugglers who could get anyone, or anything, across the border, for a price.
Saudi Arabia needed to get rid of its Islamic radicals after 2003. That’s because the invasion of Iraq brought to an end the informal truce between Islamic terrorists and Saudi Arabia. Before the end of 2003, there were several terror attacks, which quickly turned most of the population against al Qaeda. Saudi Arabia has since cracked down hard on Islamic terrorism within its borders. But at the same time, millions of Saudis still support such terrorism, although nearly all Saudis are opposed to such attacks within Saudi Arabia. Most Islamic radicals in Saudi Arabia are willing to abide by this unofficial rule but still want to fight for Islam. There is a similar situation in Syria, although the proportion of people to admire Islamic radicals is lower.