The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, an al Qaeda-linked jihadist group that is fighting Bashir al Assad’s regime in Syria, has claimed credit for today’s complex suicide assault on an Air Force intelligence headquarters on the outskirts of Damascus. The terror group has now claimed credit for 27 of the 34 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011.
Al Nusrah released a statement claiming credit for the attack on the “Air Force Intelligence branch in Harasta, which is located on the Homs highway.” The statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
The terror group described the Syrian Air Force intelligence branch as “an infamous branch to an appalling degree, and a castle of tyranny and grievances about which only Allah the Almighty knows,” SITE reported.
According to Al Nusrah, the attack was launched in three stages. First, a suicide bomber named Abu Dhar al Shami attacked the building with “a cab bomb laden with 9 tons of explosives.”
Then, 25 minutes after the first suicide attack, a suicide bomber named Abu Yahya al Shami attacked Syrian personnel conducting rescue operations. Shami “launched with his ambulance bomb laden with 1 ton of explosives, to blow up the gathering of what remained of the Air Force elements and those who came to reinforce and rescue them.”
After the second suicide attack, mortar teams were “showering the site with mortar shells to complete harming them.”
Al Nusrah’s account generally matches those in the press. Multiple blasts were heard at the compound and more than 100 casualties were reported, according to Reuters.
Al Nusrah Front activity in Syria
The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 27 of the 34 suicide bombings in Syria that the The Long War Journal has tallied since December 2011. Since the end of August, Al Nusrah has claimed credit for launching nine suicide attacks. For more information on the suicide attacks in Syria, see LWJ reports, Suicide bombings become commonplace in Syria , and Al Nusrah Front claims 5 suicide attacks in Syria in past month.
The al Qaeda-linked group has conducted several sophisticated attacks in Syria since it announced its presence earlier this year. On June 1, Al Nusrah claimed it executed the June 1 suicide assault on the Syrian military at a camp in Idlib, as well as a complex attack at the airport at Albu Kamal on Sept. 4.
Prior to today’s attack, the last complex attack took place on Sept. 26, when an assault team detonated a suicide car bomb outside the Army headquarters in the heart of Damascus. A five-man team then entered the headquarters and battled with security guards. Also, on Oct. 3, Al Nusrah launched two suicide attacks and two car bomb attacks against different military targets in Aleppo.
Additionally, Al Nusrah has claimed credit for hundreds of conventional attacks in addition to the suicide attacks.
Al Nusrah is known to conduct joint operations with the Free Syrian Army, the main group in Syria that is held up as the secular opposition to the Assad regime. In August, Al Nusrah said it attacked a police station outside of Damascus along with the Al Sahaba Battalion, a unit of the Free Syrian Army that operates in the capital. According to The Guardian, jihadist groups such as Al Nusrah have become more appealing to Syrian rebels as they are better organized and have expertise from waging jihad in Iraq and elsewhere, and have integrated their operations with the Free Syrian Army.
Besides the Al Nusrah Front, other al Qaeda-affiliated groups, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, also operate in Syria. In addition, still other al Qaeda-style groups, such as the Al Baraa Ibn Malik Martyrdom Brigade, which has claimed that it will use suicide attacks, and the Omar al Farouq Brigade, have appeared in Syria as well.
Foreign jihadists have begun to pour into Syria to wage jihad against Assad’s regime. Fighters from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and the Palestinian Territories are known to have been killed in Syria.
Reported or suspected suicide bombings in Syria:
The dates given below are, in most cases, the dates of the attacks. In a few cases, when the date of a claimed attack is unknown, the date of Al Nusrah’s claim of responsibility is used. So far, no other group has claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in Syria since December 2011.
Dec. 23, 2011 – Two car bombings in Damascus on this day are the first known suicide attacks in Syria since the rebellion began nine months earlier. The attacks targeted the regime’s intelligence offices, killing at least 44 people and wounding more than 160 others. According to the National Counterterrorism Center, it is likely that two female suicide bombers deployed by Al Qaeda in Iraq were responsible.
Jan. 6, 2012 – A suicide car bomb attack killed 26 people in Damascus. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Feb. 10, 2012 – Twin suicide car bombings killed 28 people in Aleppo. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack.
Mar. 17, 2012 – Two suicide car bombings killed at least 27 people and wounded 100 or more in Damascus. The bombings targeted the Assad regime’s security forces. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the bombings and released a video, translated by SITE, showing the two bombers giving speeches before their attacks.
April 20, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked Syrian military forces dining at a restaurant in Hama. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the Syrian forces targeted had massacred civilians in a nearby town.
April 24, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked the Iranian Cultural Consulate in Damascus. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the attack.
April 27, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked at a mosque in the Midan neighborhood of Damascus. The attack reportedly killed 11 people and wounded 28 more. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility, saying the attack targeted regime personnel who were attending prayers.
April 30, 2012 – In an apparent attack on Syrian military intelligence services, two bombs are detonated in the town of Idlib. According to Reuters, state-controlled media said that nine people were killed, with 100 more wounded, and two suicide bombers were responsible. An “activist” said that 20 people were killed. The Associated Press also attributed the attack to suicide bombers.
May 10, 2012 – Two suicide car bomb attacks killed at least 55 people and wounded more than 370 others in Damascus. According to the BBC, the “blasts happened near a military intelligence building during morning rush hour.” Days later, it appeared that Al Nusrah claimed credit for the attacks in a video online. Subsequently, however, Al Nusrah denied the validity of the video, saying it had not been published by the group’s official media arm.
May 19, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked the Syrian intelligence services in Deir al-Zor. According to Reuters, the state news agency said that nine people were killed and approximately 100 others were wounded. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the bombing.
June 1, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked a Syrian military camp in Idlib. The suicide bomber’s attack was just one component of the complex assault, which also involved an ambush and IED attacks. The Al Nusrah Front later claimed responsibility for the raid.
June 7, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying state security personnel in Aleppo. The Al Nusrah Front claimed responsibility for the operation.
June 14, 2012 – A suicide bomber attacked state security services outside of Damascus. The Al Nusrah Front claimed responsibility for the attack and said that “many” security personnel were killed.
June 26, 2012 – The Al Nusrah Front claims that it conducted two suicide bombings against Syrian military forces on this day. The terrorist organization also claimed that 250 Syrian soldiers were killed in the attacks, according to translations prepared by SITE. The Long War Journal did not find independent verification for the high number of casualties claimed by the Al Nusrah Front.
June 30, 2012 – In a statement dated this day, the Al Nusrah Front claimed that a suicide bomber attacked a security barrier in Daraa, a town in southern Syria. The group did not say when the attack took place. On Mar. 3, a car bomb was detonated near a military checkpoint in Daraa. The Syrian government claimed it was a suicide attack that killed two people; opposition forces denied that it was a suicide attack. According to a local resident interviewed by Reuters, at least seven people were killed and eight more were wounded. It is unclear if the Mar. 3 attack is the same one claimed by Al Nusrah.
July 18, 2012 – A bomb killed senior Syrian military and intelligence officials. There are conflicting reports as to whether a suicide bombing or a remote-controlled explosive device was used in the attack. Among those killed was Assef Shawkat, the deputy defense minister and former head of Syrian military intelligence. Shawkat, who was the brother-in-law of Bashar al Assad, had supported AQI for years.
July 19, 2012 – In a statement released online days later, the Al Nusrah Front claimed it launched a suicide operation targeting a security barrier in Ma’arat al-Nu’man that killed 60 Syrian soldiers on this day.
Aug. 7, 2012 – In a statement released on this day, the Al Nusrah Front said that a suicide bomber targeted “a military security detachment … in the area of Mhardeh in the Hama countryside.” It is not clear what day the actual attack took place.
Aug. 17, 2012 – The Al Nusrah Front claims that a suicide bomber attacked a gathering of 600 regime “thugs” in Hama on this day. The total number of casualties was not reported.
Aug. 28, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed it executed a suicide attack “against a large gathering inside the new Equestrian Club” in Hama. The total number of casualties was not reported.
Sept. 2, 2012 – In a statement released on this day, Al Nusrah claims that a suicide bomber attacked the “Ibn Wardan barrier in Hama governorate.” The total number of casualties was not reported.
Sept. 4, 2012 – A suicide bomber known as Abu Khattab al Shami detonated his explosives-packed car at the airport at Albu Kamal. Fighters then launched a follow-on attack. The total number of casualties was not reported.
Sept. 8, 2012 – A suicide bomber identified as Abu Abdullah al Shami attacked a hospital in Aleppo, killing 27 soldiers and wounding 64 more.
Sept. 11, 2012 – Al Nusrah released a statement claiming that Abu al Farooq al Shamali bombed “the fortress of the enemies” in al Bareed al Thani in Deir al Zour. The number of those killed and wounded in the attack was not disclosed.
Sept. 26, 2012 – Al Nusrah claimed it launched a complex suicide assault on the Army Headquarters in Damascus. Four soldiers were killed, and 14 more were wounded.
Oct. 3, 2012 – An Al Nusrah suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside the Officer’s club in Aleppo. Minutes later, a second suicide bomber detonated at the tourist hotel next to the Officer’s club, and then a suicide assault team stormed the hotel.
Oct. 9, 2012 – Al Nusrah launched a complex suicide attack on the Air Force intelligence branch in Harasta outside of Damascus. More than a hundred casualties were reported.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.