‘Qaeda plays role in Syria’

Amid escalating violence in Syria, there is growing concern that Al Qaeda is trying to change the nature of the conflict against President Bashar Al Assad’s regime and is resorting to frequent suicide bombings to ‘hijack’ the revolution, a media report said on Wednesday.

The New York Times reported that there is growing evidence that Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are ‘doing their best to hijack the Syrian revolution, becoming a cause of concern and alarm for American intelligence officials as well as Iraqi officials next door.’

The paper said while leaders of the Syrian political and military opposition deny that the extremists are playing any role in the Syrian conflict, ‘Al Qaeda has helped to change the nature of the conflict, injecting the weapon it perfected in Iraq suicide bombings into the battle against President Bashar al-Assad with growing frequency.’

‘The evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for Sunni extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda,’ it added.

It cited the example of a key border crossing with Turkey Bab al-Hawa, which fell into Syrian rebels’ hands last week, becoming a jihadist congregating point.

Since December, there have been at least 35 car bombings and 10 confirmed suicide bombings, four of which have been claimed by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, according to data compiled by the Institute for the Study of War.

The NYT said videos are being posted on the internet that show masked men calling themselves the Free Syrian Army and brandishing AK-47s.

With Al Qaeda flags hanging in the background, a speaker says in the video, ‘We are now forming suicide cells to make jihad in the name of God.’

Recently, presence of jihadists in Syria has accelerated due to a convergence with the sectarian tensions across the country’s long border in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda, through an audio statement, has made an undisguised bid to link its insurgency in Iraq with the revolution in Syria, depicting both as sectarian conflicts - Sunnis versus Shiite, the paper added.

Iraqi officials have also expressed concern that the extremists operating in Syria are in many cases the very same militants striking across their country.

‘We are 100 percent sure from security coordination with Syrian authorities that the wanted names that we have are the same wanted names that the Syrian authorities have, especially within the last three months,’ Izzat al-Shahbandar, a close aide to Iraqi prime minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, said.

‘Al-Qaeda that is operating in Iraq is the same as that which is operating in Syria,’ he said.
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