Banner for the Al Nusrah Front, a jihadist group in Syria. Image from the SITE Intelligence Group.
An al Qaeda-linked terror group in Syria known as the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant released a statement yesterday claiming credit for the April 27 suicide attack in Damascus that killed 11 people and wounded 28 more. The Al Nusrah Front is one of two Islamist groups to have announced their existence this year in the battle against President Bashir al Assad’s regime.
The statement, titled “A Martyrdom-Seeking Operation Against a Gathering of Security
Elements in the Midan Neighborhood,” was published on jihadist websites associated with al Qaeda and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“We in the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant declare our responsibility for the martyrdom-seeking operation in the Midan neighborhood that took place on Friday, 27/4/2012,” the statement read, according to SITE. The terror group said the “martyrdom seeking operation was carried out by the hero Abu Omar al Shami.”
According to Al Nusrah, the targets of the attack were “the security elements [who] were gathered during the Friday prayers” and the attack was not carried out near a mosque as Syrian state television had claimed.
The Syrian resistance has claimed, however, that the April 27 suicide attack was carried out by elements of the state’s security services.
President Bashir al Assad’s regime has been battling the Syrian Free Army in several of the country’s major cities. Assad’s security forces have ruthlessly attempted to suppress the rebellion. Syrian government forces have killed nearly 10,000 Syrians over the past year, indiscriminately shelling civilian areas and using armored vehicles and snipers to fire on civilians.
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 recently been activated in Homs. 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 in Homs 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 President 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 six suicide bombings in Syria, including the April 27 attack. 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.