It is, one might think, the very last thing that Syria needs right now. As if a bloody sectarian civil war were not enough to be dealing with, the residents of the Syrian capital Damascus woke up today to a rather unexpected international visitor: the BNP leader Nick Griffin.
In a bizarre but graphic illustration of the old saying “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, the far-right politician arrived in the country from Lebanon at the official invitation of President Bashar al-Assad and the Arab Socialist Baath Party. And he wasted little time pinning his colours to the Assad mast. In a series of tweets he castigated British support for Syrian opposition forces, claimed the rebels were jihadist terrorists and likened security in Damascus to Belfast in the Troubles.
Mr Griffin’s arrival in the Syrian capital coincided with a suicide attack on a police station that killed at least 14 people. But Mr Griffin at first insisted that all was well. “Occasional explosions in distance but life in capital normal,” he wrote on Twitter. “Traffic busy, shops full of goods. Families out in sun.”
When he was later taken by the regime on a visit to the scene of the attack, he used it to further push its political agenda: “Just visited site of rebel suicide bomb attack this am. Smelt like abattoir. Vile. Hague wants your taxes to arm these terrorists!”
He also linked support for the rebels with the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. “Cameron & Hague plan to send UK money & weapons to rebels dominated by Islamist jihadis like killers of Lee Rigby,” he wrote. More than 80,000 people have been killed in Syria in the two years since a peaceful uprising in the country slowly degenerated into civil war.
Echoing the propaganda of the Assad government, which has sought to portray itself as the only government capable of preventing the country from descending into chaos, Mr Griffin said: “Why turn stable secular state into Iraq-style hell of secrarian [sic] hate? More madness from the people who dragged us to costly war in Iraq & Afghan.”
Asked about the trip by The Independent, a spokesman for the BNP said he was not prepared to answer questions. “You will just twist everything I say,” he said. “You are even worse than The Guardian.”
But speaking to the Daily Mail, the BNP spokesman Simon Darby said Mr Griffin, who is an MEP for North West England, was invited to Damascus as part of a delegation of European politicians, including MEPs and MPs from Belgium, Russia and Poland.
Mr Darby said that he was not being paid by the Syrian regime and did not want his presence in the country to be seen as an endorsement of Mr Assad. “What he wants is to let people have a proper view of what is going on in Syria, because at the moment all we have is William Hague and his infantile war-mongering,” Mr Darby said. “He wants to ascertain just how many British citizens are fighting out there for the so-called Free Syrian Army and other elements opposed to Assad.
“He is representing the point of view of ordinary British people who don’t want any engagement in the Middle East and its troubles, any more than they wanted to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq... He is sick and tired of seeing lads from Manchester and Liverpool coming back in body bags or with arms and legs missing.”