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Paul McLoughlin

German far-right politicians courted by Assad regime in Syria

The AfD delegation visited Syria's grand mufti [Udo Hemmelgarn/Twitter]

Date of publication: 6 March, 2018

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Syria's regime is hosting a delegation from the far-right Alternative for Germany party, with anti-immigration officials meeting the country's notorious grand mufti who called on Syrians in Germany to return.

A delegation from the far-right Alternative for Germany Party (AfD) are visiting Syrian regime officials in Damascus, in the latest courtship between Bashar al-Assad and anti-immigration European populist movements.

The party shared on Twitter images of its officials and MPs in Damascus where they met Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun, a key figure in the Syrian regime.

"Currently some members of the AfD are in Syria, Damascus to get information about the humanitarian situation in Syria. On the first day they held a two-hour meeting with Grand Mufti Dr Sheikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun who said that Syrian refugees in Germany should come back home," the tweet in German read.

Another tweet by AfD German MP Udo Hemmelgarn said the delegation included Thomas Roecke, Christian Blex, Frank Paseman, Harald Weyel, Jürgen Pohl and Steffen Christ.

He said the meeting with the grand mufti was the "highlight of the day" and also confirmed Badreddin had called for Syrian refugees in Germany to return to Syria. Hemmelgarn added a "thumbs up" emoji at the end of the message.

The AfD became Germany's main opposition party on Monday, after the Social Democrats joined in a coalition with the Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Union.

The far-right party stunned many in Germany by winning nearly 13 percent of the vote in last year's federal elections after a divisive campaign driven by anti-immigration rhetoric.

Germany has seen a huge increase in Syrian immigration, after Bashar al-Assad's regime and Russia stepped up their bombing of opposition areas. 

Other Syrians have fled Islamic State group attacks, while Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis have also joined the flow of migration to Germany.

Germany opened its doors to Syrian refugees fleeing the war in 2015, but a rise in anti-immigration sentiments has seen the country take a rightwards political shift.

Attacks in Germany claimed by the Islamic State group have also done damage to Merkel's multi-cultural vision. 

The AfD has called on Syrians in Germany to return home, despite human rights groups warning the war-torn country is still among the most dangerous in the world. 

The visit by the far-right German MPs appears to be driven by AfD efforts to promote its policy of repatriation for Syrian refugees.

At the start of the Syria war in 2011, the grand mufti - a key ally of Assad - warned that if attacked the Syrian regime would send suicide bombers among refugees to Europe.

"We will prepare suicide bombers who are already in your countries if you bomb Syria or Lebanon," he said in one fiery sermon.

Badreddin is despised by anti-Assad Syrians who see the grand mufti as a puppet of the regime.

A number of far-right European politicians have visited Syria during the war - including former British National Party leader Nick Griffin - to show their support for Bashar al-Assad's regime. 

Right-wing, anti-Muslim populists in the West have tried to portray the war of a "secular" Bashar al-Assad defending Syria from "foreign jihadists".

More than 500,000 Syrians have died in the seven-year war, the vast majority from regime and Russian bombing.


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