Fighters from the Islamic Front, a large Islamist coalition that regularly partners with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, blew up a historic hotel in Old Aleppo today that was being used as a base for the forces of President Bashar al Assad. In a claim of responsibility that included video footage of the bomb site, the Islamic Front said that 50 soldiers were killed, Reuters reported.
According to the opposition activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamic fighters had dug a tunnel underneath the Carlton hotel and detonated a large quantity of explosives there. At least 14 regime soldiers and pro-regime militants were killed by the blast and in clashes following it with the Islamic Front, SOHR reported, and other regime forces were injured.
Syrian state media as well as activists reported that the hotel, which stood near the entrance of the 13th century citadel in Old Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was completely destroyed, as were several surrounding buildings. Opposition sources claimed that the 150-year-old hotel was being used as a headquarters for regime forces.
The Islamic Front’s claim of responsibility, which was posted on its Twitter account today, did not indicate how the casualty count of 50 regime forces was obtained, according to The Independent. The SOHR noted that there were “reports of human losses in both sides.”
Tunneling a frequent Islamic Front tactic
Since its emergence in November, the Islamic Front has frequently employed the tactic of tunneling under a regime force target and bombing it from below.
On May 5, the Islamic Front bombed a regime checkpoint in Idlib by planting IEDs in a tunnel under it.
On April 15, Islamic Front, the Al Nusrah Front, and the Abu A’mara battalion attacked a large regime barracks in Hanano in north Aleppo, killing at least 27 soldiers, in a battle that began when “rebels detonated explosives in tunnels they had dug beneath army positions around the barracks,” according to SOHR. The Abu A’mara battalion is another Islamist group that has been fighting alongside Al Nusrah and allies in Aleppo.
On April 3, state media said “army units discovered a 200-meter long tunnel extending towards al-Majd suburb after killing terrorists in Alia farms in Douma [in the Damascus countryside], while other units dismantled 38 explosive devices that terrorists planted in the area.” The report did not say which group was using the tunnel, however.
On Feb. 14, in an attack strikingly similar to today’s, “Islamic battalion [Islamic Front] fighters dug many tunnels under the Carlton hotel in Aleppo city, which is a regime HQ, and detonated few of them, what led to death of 5 regular forces and injured more than 18, that followed by clashes between the two sides in the area, led to death of 2 Islamic battalion fighters,” SOHR reported.
And on Jan. 14, Syrian state media reported that regime forces “uncovered a network of connected tunnels containing terrorist command centers in al-Zarzour [in the Aleppo countryside], some of them 10 meters deep in the ground.” As is often the case in state media reports, the name of the terrorist group or groups was not mentioned.
The Islamic Front, which is said to consist of well over 40,000 fighters, has undoubtedly been involved in other tunneling-type activities and attacks in Syria. These dramatic attacks have proven effective both militarily and in terms of propaganda value.