U.S. officials: Al Qaeda behind Syria bombings

McClatchy reports: The Iraqi branch of al Qaida, seeking to exploit the bloody turmoil in Syria to reassert its potency, carried out two recent bombings in the Syrian capital, Damascus, and likely was behind suicide bombings Friday that killed at least 28 people in the largest city, Aleppo, U.S. officials told McClatchy.

The officials cited U.S. intelligence reports on the incidents, which appear to verify Syrian President Bashar Assad’s charges of al Qaida involvement in the 11-month uprising against his rule. The Syrian opposition has claimed that Assad’s regime, which has responded with massive force against the uprising, staged the bombings to discredit the pro-democracy movement calling for his ouster.

The international terrorist network’s presence in Syria also raises the possibility that Islamic extremists will try to hijack the uprising, which would seriously complicate efforts by the United States and its European and Arab partners to force Assad’s regime from power. On Friday, President Barack Obama repeated his call for Assad to step down, accusing his forces of “outrageous bloodshed.”

The U.S. intelligence reports indicate that the bombings came on the orders of Ayman al Zawahiri, the Egyptian extremist who assumed leadership of al Qaida’s Pakistan-based central command after the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden. They suggest that Zawahiri still wields considerable influence over the network’s affiliates despite the losses the Pakistan-based core group has suffered from missile-firing CIA drones and other intensified U.S. counterterrorism operations.

U.S. officials said that al Qaida in Iraq, or AQI, began pushing to become involved in Syria as Assad’s security forces and gangs of loyalist thugs launched a vicious crackdown on opposition demonstrations, igniting large-scale bloodshed. Growing numbers of lightly armed army deserters and civilians have joined an armed insurrection, and perhaps thousands of people have been killed.

Zawahiri finally authorized AQI to begin operations in Syria, the officials said, in what’s believed to be the first time that the branch has operated outside of Iraq.

“This was Zawahiri basically taking the shackles off,” said a U.S. official with access to the intelligence reports. Like others interviewed for this story, he spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue involves classified information.

U.S. officials believe that the Sunni Muslim AQI was looking to expand beyond Iraq, where it has been stepping up attacks on majority Shiites. In Syria, Assad heads a regime dominated by Alawites, a minority Shiite Muslim sect that has ruthlessly ruled the Sunni Muslim-majority country since Assad’s father seized power in a 1963 coup.

While the extent of AQI’s presence in Syria is unknown, U.S. officials believe that it’s too small to have a decisive effect on the conflict. Although al Qaida and its affiliates may have sought to play roles in other Arab Spring uprisings, this appeared to be the first time that the network had successfully done so.

“This has less to do with the targets and more to do with the opportunity,” the U.S. official said.

To explain al Qaeda’s entry into the conflict in Syria as “opportunism” is really to offer no explanation — unless one believes al Qaeda’s ranks are filled with young men simply looking for an opportunity to blow themselves up.

Neither should a recognition of al Qaeda’s involvement draw the simplistic retort (but no doubt it will) that this is a confirmation of Bashir’s claim that his government is facing a challenge from terrorists.

Assuming that the intelligence being reported here is accurate, then it would seem more likely that AQI’s activity in Syria has more to do with its ambitions in Iraq than in lending support to the cause of Sunni majority rule in Syria.

In Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki is showing no restraint in his effort to wipe out AQI. This week, 14 people were executed on a single day — most of them AQI members according to government officials.

AQI’s emergence in Syria may simply be a way of declaring its continued existence. And it may also hope to consolidate its foothold in its last remaining safe haven by compounding the instability on which it thrives.

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5 thoughts on “U.S. officials: Al Qaeda behind Syria bombings

  1. Colm O' Toole

    Well that is one of the problems with Syria. It’s got a population of 20 million but since 2003 has had between 2-3 Million Iraqi refugees pouring in.

    The Iraqi city of Fallujah and Anbar province is just across the border from Syria. With the loss of the Sunni-Shia civil war and the surge of troops in 2007-2008 its likely that alot of the Sunni extremists and jihadists fled across the border along with the millions of refugees.

    This would cause a double problem for Syria, you have millions of refugees taking up jobs and draining Syrian resources (the US refused to give Syria aid/money to deal with this influx of 2 Million Iraqi’s fleeing the war). Also alot of the ranks are formerly trained Insurgents from a sectarian war that likely brought alot of Anti-Shia resentment with them. It’s a toxic mix of economic drain and trained fighters with nothing to do.

    Also it is likely that these refugee camps provide fertile soil for AQ recruitment. A few years ago Lebanon forces launched an assault of a refugee camp North of Beirut after Jihadists effectively took it over.


  2. hquain

    Enfeebled AQ has a strong interest in showing signs of life, to be sure. But US interest in the AQ’s continued existence is equally strong or stronger: without it, there’s no stirring rationale for the whole dingy fabric of current US Ostpolitik.

    Given the history of tendentious leaks from ‘intelligence sources’, I’d be inclined to let this one cure for a few days before swallowing it.

  3. dickerson3870

    RE: “A few years ago Lebanon forces launched an assault of a refugee camp North of Beirut after Jihadists effectively took it over.” ~ Colm O’ Toole

    MY COMMENT: More specifically, Lebanon forces launched an assault on Sunni Jihadists funded by the U.S. and its allies in an effort to counter (Shiite) Hezbollah.

    SEE – Inside Narh al-Bared and Bedawi Refugee Camps: Who’s Behind the Fighting in North Lebanon?, by Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, 5/24/07

    (excerpts)…It is not surprising that al-Qaeda sympathies, if not formal affiliations, are found in the 12 official camps as well as 7 unofficial ones. Groups with names such as Fateh al-Islam, Jund al-Shams (Soldier of Damascus) , Ibns al-Shaheed” (sons of the martyrs) Issbat al-Anssar which morphed into Issbat al-Noor – “The Community of Illumination” and many others.
    Given Bush administration debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan and its encouragement for Israel to continue its destruction of Lebanon this past summer, the situation in Lebanon mirrors, in some respects, the early 1980′s when groups sprung up to resist the US green lighted Israeli invasion and occupation. But rather than being Shia and pro-Hezbollah, today’s groups are largely Sunni and anti-Hezbollah. Hence they qualify for US aid, funneled by Sunni financial backers in league with the Bush administration which is committed to funding Islamist Sunni groups to weaken Hezbollah.
    This project has become the White House obsession following Israel’s July 2006 defeat.
    To understand what is going on with Fatah al-Islam at Nahr el-Bared one would want a brief introduction to Lebanon’s amazing, but shadowy ‘Welch Club’.
    The Club is named for its godfather, David Welch, assistant to Secretary of State Rice who is the point man for the Bush administration and is guided by Eliot [Elliott] Abrams…

    Over a year ago Hariri’s Future Movement started setting up Sunni Islamist terrorist cells (the PSP and LF already had their own militia since the civil war and despite the Taif Accords requiring militia to disarm they are now rearmed and itching for action and trying hard to provoke Hezbollah).
    The FM created Sunni Islamist ‘terrorist’ cells were to serve as a cover for (anti-Hezbollah) Welch Club projects. The plan was that actions of these cells, of which Fatah el-Islam is one, could be blamed on al Qaeda or Syria or anyone but the Club.
    To staff the new militias, FM rounded up remnants of previous extremists in the Palestinian Refugee camps that had been subdued, marginalized and diminished during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Each fighter got $700 per month, not bad in today’s Lebanon…

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.counterpunch.org/2007/05/24/who-s-behind-the-fighting-in-north-lebanon/

    ALSO SEE – State Department’s Wikipocrisy: So Who Exactly is Sowing Strife in Lebanon?, by Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, 12/10/10
    LINK – http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/12/10/so-who-exactly-is-sowing-strife-in-lebanon/

  4. Colm O' Toole

    Wow interesting reads dickerson, thanks.

    Of course you would have to wonder what is going on in the Syrian refugee camps at present after reading that.

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