Report points finger at Al-Qaeda offshoot for recent Syria bombings
WASHINGTON - The Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda carried out two recent bombings in Damascus and was likely behind suicide bombings Friday that killed at least 28 people in the Syrian city of Aleppo, McClatchy Newspapers reported.
Citing unnamed US officials, the newspaper chain said the incidents appeared to verify Syrian President Bashar Assad's charges of Al-Qaeda involvement in the uprising against his rule.
The Syrian opposition has claimed that the Assad regime had staged the bombings to discredit the pro-democracy movement, the report said.
The first Damascus attack occurred on December 23, when suicide bombers detonated cars packed with explosives outside intelligence agency compounds, killing at least 44 people.
On January 6, at least 26 people were killed and dozens injured in a bombing against a second intelligence agency compound.
The Al-Qaeda presence in Syria also raises the possibility that Islamic extremists will try to hijack the uprising, McClatchy Newspapers said.
US intelligence reports indicate that the bombings came on the orders of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian who assumed leadership of Al-Qaeda after the last year's death of Osama bin Laden, the newspaper chain noted.
US officials said that Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) began pushing to become involved in Syria as Assad's security forces and gangs of loyalists launched a crackdown on opposition demonstrations, igniting large-scale bloodshed, the report said.
Zawahiri finally authorized AQI to begin operations in Syria in what's believed to be the first time that the branch has operated outside of Iraq, McClatchy Newspapers pointed out.
Twin car bombs targeting security posts in Syria's second city of Aleppo killed at least 28 people on Friday, state media said, as rebels accused the regime of launching the attacks as a diversion.
The explosions came as tank-backed troops advanced on pockets of resistance in the battered and besieged protest hub of Homs, and as heavy security deployments nationwide thwarted planned protests against regime ally Russia.
The powerful mid-morning blasts ripped through the northern commercial hub, also wounding 235 people, said state television, which broadcast gruesome footage.
Mangled bodies were shown in pools of blood outside rows of shattered buildings and piles of rubble strewn across a broad avenue.
State television called the bombings, the first in Aleppo since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime erupted almost a year ago, the work of "armed terrorist gangs."
It said a "suicide bomber in a car packed with explosives" had attacked a police station, flattening a nearby food distribution centre. The second targeted an intelligence base.
The rebel Free Syrian Army blamed the government itself for the attacks.
"This criminal regime is... carrying out bomb attacks in Aleppo to steer attention away from what it is doing in Homs, Zabadani and elsewhere," its spokesman, Colonel Maher Nouaimi, said in a telephone interview.
State television showed emergency workers holding body parts, including hands, feet and a torso. Soldiers were among the casualties, it said.
"The number of casualties from the two car bombs in Aleppo has risen to 28 dead and 235 wounded," said the health ministry. Among the dead were soldiers and civilians, including children.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 30 people were killed in the Aleppo blasts.
Several people interviewed on television denounced Turkey and Qatar for not standing by the regime as it seeks to put down the revolt.
"Is this the freedom they want?" asked one angry looking man, holding up a severed arm and referring to those leading the protest movement.
Syria blamed the blasts on "terrorists" backed by Arab and Western nations, in a letter sent to the UN secretary general, the UN Security Council, the Arab League and other organisations.
"Certain countries in the region are behind a propaganda campaign against Syria and are harbouring armed terrorists for so-called humanitarian reasons," it wrote, the official SANA state news agency reported.
Aleppo has been largely spared the unrest that has rocked the country since mid-March and killed more than 6,000 people, say rights groups.