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AL-NUSRA CLAIMED RESPONSIBILITY FOR ATTACKS IN SYRIA

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An Al Qaeda-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra (the victorious) Front to Protect the Levant (Sham in Arabic) claimed responsibility, in late June 2012, for dozens of attacks across Syria, the latest evidence that extremists are exploiting the chaos to make inroads in another Middle Eastern country (see also – Jund al-Sham).

The Syrian regime has long blamed terrorists for the 16-month-old revolt, and the presence of Al Qaeda groups creates new difficulties for Arab and Western countries trying to help force President Bashar Assad from power (see – SYRIAN DILEMA ).

The opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army -FSA deny having any links to terrorism, and say they do not have the desire or the capabilities to carry out massive suicide bombings and other Al Qaeda-style attacks.

On Tuesday 07/03/2012, the SITE monitoring group, which tracks jihadist chatter on the Internet, said the Al-Nusra Front released statements on extremist websites in late June claiming the attacks were to avenge the killings of Syrians by the government.

One of the attacks targeted a pro-regime television station in the town of Drousha, south of the capital, Damascus, on 06/27/2012. Seven people were killed in the attack on Al-Ikhbariya TV.

Al-Nusra said the station is an arm of the regime and the attack sought to make the station “taste from the cup of torture” and force every member of the regime to wonder: “When will my turn come?” The statement included photos of 11 men it said were kidnapped in the attack. Al-Ikhbariya is privately owned but often acts as a regime mouthpiece.Other attacks in the latest claim of responsibility include dozens of armed raids and bombings – including suicide bombings – in Syrian cities.

Little is known about Al-Nusra, although Western intelligence officials say it could be a front for a branch of Al Qaeda militants from Iraq operating in Syria. The group has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks in Syria, including suicide bombings, in the past.

Although the Syrian opposition disavows links to terror, the presence of Al Qaeda among the forces fighting to oust Assad is a serious complicating factor for the international powers that say they want to help the opposition without empowering extremists along the way.

The Syrian regime is dominated by members of the Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. Sunnis make up most of the population of 22 million and are the backbone of the opposition (see – Shiite Arc).

Assad has been able to count on backing from powerful allies like Russia and Iran. On Wednesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Syrians should decide their own fate. According to his Internet website, Ahmadinejad told the visiting speaker of the Syrian parliament that others must not impose their will on Syria.

More than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began, according to activists. Despite global outrage over the crackdown by the Assad regime, the international response has been focused entirely on diplomacy and sanctions as the violence escalates (see also – SYRIAN 2011 UNREST).

Military intervention has been all but ruled out in Syria for now, in part because the conflict has so much potential for escalation. Damascus has strong allegiances to powerful forces including Lebanon’s Hizbullah and Shiite powerhouse Iran.

The opposition, n Syria is in disarray. A key meeting of different opposition groups in Cairo concluded Tuesday with only general agreements on a transitional period and the character of the post-Assad state. They failed to create a unified leadership and papered over many other key differences.
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