A screen shot of the video released on Feb. 26 by the Al Nusrah Front. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
A jihadist group known as the Al Nusrah Front claimed credit for a series of attacks in Syria, including two bombings outside of security installations in Damascus on March 17 that killed 27 people and wounded more than 100. The Al Nusrah Front is one of two Islamist terror groups to have announced their existence this year to battle President Bashir al Assad’s regime.
The Al Nusrah Front released the statement claiming credit for the bombings on jihadist websites associated with al Qaeda. The statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“The soldiers the Al Nusrah Front, may Allah grant it glory, carried out a series of military operations in several provinces against the dens of the regime,” the statement said. “The most prominent of these operations is that which targeted the Air Force Security Branch and the Criminal Security administration in Damascus.”
Al Nusrah said the bombings were “in response to the regime’s ongoing bombing in the residential areas in Homs, Idlib, Hama, Daraa, and elsewhere.”
The Syrian government claimed the two bombings in Damascus were carried out by suicide bombers. Al Nusrah did not mention suicide bombers in today’s statement, but in a statement released on Feb. 26 the group claimed it executed a “martyrdom-seeking operation” to avenge a woman killed in Homs.
Al Nusrah warned Syrian Alawites, a Shia minority sect that runs the country, to “stop your massacres against the Sunnis; otherwise, you will have the sin of the Nusayris
(Alawites), and what is coming is worse and more bitter….” The terror group also said it did not intentionally target Christians in the latest attack in Damascus, but that any casualties were the result of the security headquarters’ being located in Christian neighborhoods.
Background on the Al Nusrah Front
The Al Nusrah Front announced the formation of the “Free Ones of the Levant Brigades” in a YouTube video statement that was released on Jan. 23. In the statement, the group claimed an attack on security headquarters in Idlib.
“To all the free people of Syria, we announce the formation of the Free Ones of the Levant Brigades,” the statement said, according to a translation obtained by The Long War Journal. “We promise Allah, and then we promise you, that we will be a firm shield and a striking hand to repel the attacks of this criminal Al Asad army with all the might we can muster. We promise to protect the lives of civilians and their possessions from security and the shabihah [pro-government] militia. We are a people who will either gain victory or die.”
In addition to the Al Nusrah Front, a second jihadist group has been activated in Homs in the past month. In February, a group calling itself the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade said it had formed a martyrdom battalion and was prepared to carry out suicide attacks against Syrian forces. The video announcing the group’s activation showed members of the group posing in front of a flag belonging to al Qaeda in Iraq. Interestingly, a group known as the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade was created to wage jihad in Iraq in 2005, and merged with al Qaeda in Iraq under the command of Ayman al Zawahiri. The newly activated group also said it was part of the Free Syrian Army, which claims to be secular. The Free Syrian Army has blamed suicide attacks in Syria on Assad’s intelligence services.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri has recently urged Muslims inside and outside of Syria to take up arms against the Syrian government. In a statement issued on Feb. 11 and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, Zawahiri said: “I appeal to every Muslim and every free, honorable one in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon, to rise to help his brothers in Syria with all what he can, with his life, money, wonders, opinion, and information.” Telling Syrians not to trust Turkey, the Arab League, or the West, he exhorted the “lions of the Levant” to “[d]evelop the intention of jihad in the Cause of Allah to establish a state that defends the Muslim countries and seeks to liberate the Golan and continue its jihad until it raises the banners of victory above the usurped hills of Jerusalem.”
Since the end of December 2011, there have already been five other suicide bombings in Syria. The Syrian government said that a pair of suicide bombers targeted security headquarters in Damascus on Dec. 23; over 40 people were reported killed and scores more were wounded in the blasts. On Jan. 6, the Syrian government said that a suicide bomber killed 25 people in an attack on security forces in Damascus. And on Feb. 10, a pair of suicide bombers killed 25 people while targeting security headquarters in Aleppo.
Al Qaeda in Iraq already has a strong presence in Syria [see LWJ report, Eastern Syria becoming a new al Qaeda haven]. The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, a regional al Qaeda affiliate, also is known to operate in Syria. Two of its senior leaders, Saudi citizens Saleh al Qarawi and Suleiman Hamad Al Hablain, have been added to the US’s list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists since November 2011. The terror group has denied any involvement in the Dec. 23 suicide attack.