Embattled President Bashar al-Assad is blaming Al Qaeda and its
affiliates for a spate of suicide bombings around Syria's capital,
but analysts are skeptical.
A recent spate of suicide bombings in the Syrian capital of
Damascus is fueling a debate over whether Al Qaeda and its
affiliates have infiltrated the 10-month uprising against President
Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The Assad regime insists that the opposition protests that have
rocked the country since March are being driven by "armed terrorist
groups" and "Islamic militants." It has blamed Al Qaeda for three
suicide bomb attacks over the past month against security offices in
Damascus, which left 70 people dead.
Analysts say there is little proof - at least for now - that
suggests that Al Qaeda, or its militant affiliates, are seeking to
play an active role in the Syrian uprising. But the Assad regime has
an ambiguous history with Sunni militants - serving at times as
suspected patron and at other times as bitter enemy - and a descent
into civil war could draw Al Qaeda and like-minded groups into the
"I haven't seen any evidence of Al Qaeda being responsible for
any of the events that have happened in the Middle East against
these embattled regimes," says Imad Salamey, associate professor of
politics at the Lebanese American University in Beirut. "These
leaders have an interest in exaggerating the role Al Qaeda is
According to Lebanese cleric Sheikh Omar Bakri, former Al Qaeda
leader Osama bin Laden had made the decision not to become involved
in the uprisings sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East
before he was killed in a US raid in May.
"If the Sunnis in Syria had called for Al Qaeda's help, Al Qaeda
would be everywhere in Syria," says the Salafist sheikh. "But Al
Qaeda did make research among Sunnis in Syria and found that they
were not in favor of a violent uprising."
Nonetheless, Al Qaeda has clearly stated its support for the
Syrian opposition against the Assad regime. The bulk of the
opposition is composed of the majority Sunni community while the
backbone of the regime is drawn from the minority Alawite sect, an
obscure religion that follows some tenets of Shiite Islam and whose
adherents comprise about 12 percent of Syria's population.
That sectarian polarization has intensified and aggravated the
struggle in Syria, especially as some conservative Sunnis view
Alawites as apostates.
In a videotaped message issued in July 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri,
Al Qaeda's new leader, applauded Syrian antiregime protestors, but
implicitly admitted that his organization was absent from the
"God knows that if it were not for the raging war with the New
Crusades in which we are engaged, ... my brothers and I would be at
your side today, in your midst defending you with our necks and
chests," he said.
Militant websites call for jihad against the Assad regime
As the violence has steadily worsened, some commentators on
jihadist websites are openly calling for waging a jihad against the
Assad regime. In November, Osama al-Shehabi, the leader of Al Qaeda-
inspired Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, called for an armed struggle in
"The regime's brutal oppression of the Syrian people proves that
it is time to change direction and use real weapons against the
regime," he wrote in an article that was published by the Shumoukh
al-Islam online forum. "The revolution is a jihad; it is a war;
prepare for jihad for God; scrutinize your intentions and take up
arms, for they are your obligation."
Last month the jihadist website Minbar al-Tawhid Wa al-Jihad
posted a fatwa, or religious edict, by an influential Salafist
cleric, in which he sanctioned the use of violence against the Assad
"Why do you insist on confining yourselves to peaceful protests?"
wrote Sheikh Abu Mundhir al-Shinqiti. …