The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an affiliate of al Qaeda in Iraq that operates throughout the Middle East, has denied all involvement in the recent suicide attack in the Syrian capital that killed 40 people. The terror group accused the Syrian government of attempting to deflect attention from its brutal crackdown on protesters that has killed more than 5,000 people.
The terror group denied its involvement in the twin suicide attacks in Damascus that targeted security headquarters on Dec. 23. More than 40 people were reported killed and scores more were wounded in the blasts. The Syrian government immediately blamed al Qaeda, but no group claimed credit for the attack.
In a statement released on jihadist websites on Dec. 27, the Abdullah Azzam Brigades denied responsibility for the suicide attacks. The statement was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
“The mujahideen, in all their groups, have no connection to these vicious bombings, and accusing them of it is falsehood and lies. The one truly responsible for them is he who is benefiting from them, and it is the regime of al Assad and his intelligence agencies,” the statement said.
The terror group said that the “failure of the regime of the tyrant in the Levant, Bashar al Assad, in subduing the rebels by force, murder, and exaggeration of crimes” forced the government to respond “against the revolution with evil cunning by its intelligence agencies.”
“Through these acts, it announces that it will not spare any trick to save itself from the disaster that is befalling it, and to get rid of the revolution,” the statement said.
The terror group said that it would have announced the operation through one of its official channels had it carried it out.
“The mujahideen don’t hide their actions and are not ashamed of them, because they do them with full conviction that is based on a perfect Shariah-perspective and a clear strategic vision,” the statement said.
Background on the Abdullah Azzam Brigades
Saleh al Qarawi, from the Saudi Interior Ministry’s list of 85 most-wanted terrorists.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades was formed by Saleh al Qarawi sometime after 2004 as an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, and was tasked with hitting targets in the Levant and throughout the Middle East.
Qarawi is a Saudi citizen and is on the list of 85 most-wanted terrorists that was issued by the Saudi Interior Ministry in 2009. He appears as number 34 on the Saudi list and is identified as Saleh Abdullah Saleh al Qaraawi.
The US added Qawari to the list of specially designated global terrorists on Dec. 15. He is the second member of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades to have been designated as a terrorist by the US State Department in recent months. On Nov. 22, State added Suleiman Hamad Al Hablain, an explosives expert who is also wanted by the Saudis, to the list of specially designated global terrorists.
Qarawi has been described as a “field commander” by Flashpoint Intel, which published a translation of an interview that was released in April 2010. According to Qarawi, he fought with former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi in Fallujah (presumably in the two battles in 2004), and was ordered by Zarqawi to form the Abdullah Azam Brigades.
“Allah rewarded me to participate with my brothers in Fallujah, and I came to know the Sheikh Abu Musab al Zarqawi–may Allah have mercy on him–closely, and he assigned me to a job outside of Iraq,” he said.
In the same interview, Qarawi said that the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are tasked not only with striking in Lebanon, but elsewhere.
“[The Abdullah Azzam Brigades] are not confined to Lebanon but there are targets that our fires will reach Allah‐willing in the near future…the Brigades are formed of a number of groups that are spread in numerous places…and the groups of ‘Ziad al‐Jarrah’ in Lebanon are only some of our groups, and we rushed to create these groups and announced them because of the urgency of the battle with the Jews and the priority of the initiative at the time and the place, but the rest of the groups are outside Lebanon.”
The “Ziad al Jarrah” is one of several battalions in the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. It operates primarily in Lebanon, and is named after Ziad al Jarrah, a Lebanese citizen who was one of the masterminds of the Sept. 11 attacks on the US. He was the pilot of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into a field in Shanksville, Penn. after passengers attempted to retake the plane from the terrorist hijackers.
The US State Department has described the Abdullah Azzam Brigades as “a Lebanese militant organization” that has conducted rocket attacks against Israel. In April 2011, the group said it launched Grad rockets against the southern Israeli city of Askelon as well as homemade rockets against the Zekim military base. It also claimed responsibility for the attack against the M Star, a Japanese oil tanker traveling off the coast of Oman from Qatar to Japan.
The Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which is named after al Qaeda’s co-founder and Osama bin Laden’s mentor, releases propaganda on a routine basis. Over the past two years, the group has advocated for the overthrow of the Saudi government and called for an uprising in Lebanon, as well as voiced support for Syrian protesters. The terror group also released a statement immediately after the death of al Qaeda emir Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
“May Allah have mercy on Osama, the Sheikh of Jihad, the Imam of Piety, the example of asceticism and the model of patience, the pioneer of glory in this age, and the awakener of the Ummah from its slumber,” the terror group said in a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group. The group also said it had been formed “after incitation” by bin Laden.
“We in the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam bear witness that we only went out for jihad after incitation from Sheikh Osama bin Laden, by his words and his actions. He is the one enacted among the people of the time, the tradition to invade infidels in their homes, and created a front to fight the Jews and the Crusaders,” the statement said.
Groups calling themselves the Abdullah Azzam Brigade have also claimed attacks in Egypt and Pakistan. It is unclear if the groups are linked.
Both the Abdullah Azzam Brigades and Tawhid and Jihad claimed they had carried out the July 2005 bombings in Sharm al Sheikh, Egypt that killed 88 people and wounded 150 more. The bombings occurred at cafes and markets frequented by foreigners in the Red Sea resort town.
And a group calling itself the Abdullah Azzam Brigade claimed credit for the June 2009 suicide assault on the Pearl Continental Hotel in a high-security zone in Peshawar, Pakistan. A spokesman named Amir Muawiya claimed the attack and said the Taliban and al Qaeda shura directed that all future strikes would be claimed by this group. Amir Muawiya is a leader in the Commander Tariq Group, a Taliban faction based out of Darra Adam Khel in northwestern Pakistan.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.