Syria Attacks Seen as Sign of Extremists´ Rise / Suicide Bombings Signal Growing Role Of Islamist Militants Amid Opposition (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By NOUR MALAS 05/01/12)
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Suicide blasts on Monday and a series of other bombings across Syria
have renewed concerns that unrest there is giving extremist Islamist
groups room to grow, a scenario Western officials fear will make it
more difficult to contain the crisis.
The development also complicates efforts to encourage compliance with
a United Nations-brokered cease-fire by President Bashar al-Assad—who
has long held that the uprising against him is the work of terrorists.
Two suicide bombings ripped through busy districts of the northern
city of Idlib early Monday, killing at least nine people and injuring
at least 100, the government said. Earlier, rocket-propelled grenades
hit the central-bank building in Damascus.
There have been eight suicide attacks reported in Syria since
December, including two Monday and a bombing on Friday that killed at
least 10 people.
Western and Arab officials and some members of the Syrian opposition
say the attacks point to the growing activities of al Qaeda and
radical Sunni Islamist groups in operations against the Syrian
regime, as the popular uprising against Mr. Assad has developed into
U.S. officials, including Director of National Intelligence James
Clapper, have said strikes on security and intelligence buildings in
Damascus and Aleppo over the past four months have resembled al Qaeda
attacks, and that extremists, mainly al Qaeda insurgents from Iraq,
may have infiltrated Syrian opposition groups.
"We are increasingly concerned that these attacks are beyond the
control of the Syrian opposition…that other groups are involved," a
U.S. official said.
Syrian opposition groups, including the rebel Free Syrian Army,
denied any role in Monday´s attacks and blamed the government.
Dissidents have consistently said they believe Damascus has staged
the attacks to prove it is fighting terrorists, a blanket term the
government has used for its opponents.
Yet many activists say extremists are at work—even if in an
individual capacity—in antigovernment activities in at least a
handful of towns and villages. Many also point to an increasingly
visible strain of conservative Islamist ideology making its way even
into the protest movement, in slogans and posters.
Conservative Sunni Islamists view Syria´s ruling Alawite sect—an
esoteric branch of Islam to which the Assad family and the high ranks
of the military and security belong—as apostate.
"What we are seeing is a transformation in the civil war where
violence empowers extreme elements of the opposition who have been
part of the global Jihadist networks, particularly in Iraq," said
Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst with political-risk firm Eurasia
U.S. and other Western officials say the presence in Syria of
extremists from identifiable groups remains limited, and that the
armed opposition is made up largely of army defectors and homegrown
But some warn that extremists seek a bigger footprint. The U.S.
expects to see al Qaeda´s central leadership trying to have a greater
hand in operations in Syria and to try to guide its affiliated
militants there, said a senior U.S. intelligence official.
"Core al Qaeda was caught somewhat flatfooted in the Arab Spring,"
the official said. "They´ve had more time on something like Syria" to
Officials also warn that the Syrian regime is likely to use suicide
attacks to justify its continued armed crackdown on the opposition,
despite its commitment to an April 12 cease-fire brokered by Kofi
Annan, the U.N.-Arab League joint special envoy. The opposition, too,
has continued to fight government forces since then, with an advance
team of 30 U.N. observers documenting attacks from both sides.
The U.N. has authorized 300 observers for the mission, which is due
to be in place in Syria over the next few months.
No group took responsibility for Monday´s bombings in Idlib. Some
other suicide bombings in Damascus and Aleppo have been claimed by a
fledgling Syrian Jihadist group calling itself Jabhat al-Nusra. The
group released an eight-minute video last week detailing an attack on
a security building in Aleppo in February and naming two of its
suicide bombers. It also vowed more attacks against the regime.
Experts said the video, which was posted on jihadist websites,
Some intelligence analysts said the group appeared to be formed by
Syrians who had fought the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and have since
returned to Syria. The group appears to have nevertheless quickly
established media communications with the online sites generally used
by al Qaeda-linked groups, said Exclusive Analysis, a London-based
Supporting concerns about a growing radical presence, Lebanese media
last week reported the death in Syria of the leader of a Lebanon-
based Islamist group, Fatah al Islam, in a bomb-building operation
Syrian fighters in the town of Al Qusair, said the Islamist leader,
Abdel Ghani Jawhar, died there, confirming news reports. Lebanese
officials declined to verify the reports.
In Syria on Monday, state television broadcast images after the
attacks in Idlib of crushed cars, casualties amid concrete rubble,
and a four-story building with its facade blown off.
A U.K.-based opposition group, the Syrian Observatory for Human
Rights, said at least 20 people—mostly members of the security forces—
were killed in the bombings, which appeared to target two separate
state security buildings. The group also reported a third bombing in
Idlib and at least two smaller explosions in Damascus and its suburbs
on Monday, marking a day of widespread attacks.
The Free Syrian Army denied a role in the attacks. "These acts are
fabricated by the regime to both detract attention from its violent
repression and justify its attacks on so-called terrorists," said
Maj. Maher al-Nuaimi, a Turkey-based commander with the rebel group.
—Siobhan Gorman contributed to this article. (Copyright © Dow Jones &
Company, Inc.) 05/01/12)
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