Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syrian Uprising Shifts toward Suicide Bombings. Al Qaeda's Handiwork? (+Video)

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Syrian Uprising Shifts toward Suicide Bombings. Al Qaeda's Handiwork? (+Video)

Article excerpt

Today's suicide bombings in Syria's Idlib province come just three days after a suicide bombing in Damascus claimed by a salafi jihadist organization.

Twin suicide bombings today in the restive city of Idlib in northwest Syria left at least eight people dead and suggests that the nascent insurgency against the regime of President Bashar al- Assad could be shifting to jihadist tactics that have been a hallmark of conflicts in Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

The latest bombings came a day after Gen. Robert Mood, the head of the United Nations military observer mission in Syria, arrived in Damascus to oversee implementation of a cease-fire that was supposed to come into effect on April 12.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Idlib blasts. However, earlier suicide attacks in Syria have been claimed by a previously unknown group called Jabhat al-Nusra, purportedly a salafi jihadist organization.

Jabhat al-Nusra said it carried out the suicide bomb attack in Damascus last week, which killed 11 people and wounded 28. According to the jihadist website Shumukh al-Islam, Al-Nusra identified the suicide bomber as Abu Omar ash-Shami and said he detonated his bomb against security force personnel.

Jabhat al-Nusra also claimed twin suicide bombings in Damascus on March 17 which killed 27 people. In January, Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper said it received a videotape from Jabhat al-Nusra showing a group of militants undergoing training. The video included a statement by Fateh Abu Mohammed Golani, the group's leader, in which he predicted the downfall of the Assad regime. The suicide bomber's name, Ash-Shami, means "of Damascus" in Arabic and "Golani" refers to the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel since 1967, suggesting that Jabhat al-Nusri is composed of Syrian nationals.

Still, the Syrian opposition has cast doubts on the jihadist provenance of past suicide bombings, claiming they were actually carried out by the regime to justify its claims that it is confronting "Al-Qaeda terrorists" and "armed terrorist gangs" rather than an ostensibly peaceful opposition.

"The only Al Qaeda cells that operate in Syria are those manipulated by Assad's security apparatuses," said Ammar Abdulhamid, a US-based Syrian opposition activist in an online newsletter emailed today. "The suicide bombings are directly staged or facilitated by them. …

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