Twin car bombings a couple weeks ago that targeted a military-intelligence branch in a Damascus neighborhood, and which reportedly killed more than 50 and wounded hundreds, do bear the hallmark of Al Qaeda. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told youth conference attendees in New York, “I believe that there must be Al Qaeda behind it. This has created again very serious problems.”
The Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist militant group that has claimed responsibility for the bombings in Damascus, is extremely shadowy and prime for speculation – as are many details surrounding the violence in Syria. Al Qaeda-inspired or not, Al-Nusra should not be invested with any particular significance: There are dozens of opposition groups now operating independently in Syria.
While most eschew Al Qaeda’s tactics and ideology and are either religious-nationalists or secular-minded activists, more and more protesters have taken up arms to defend their communities. The Free Syrian Army is only one among many armed units operating independently from one another.
And increasing evidence points toward the arrival in the country of jihadist fighters from Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and elsewhere. There is consensus among American and Western intelligence services that Al Qaeda fighters have reached Syria and have joined the fray.
So far, there have been 11 car bombings in Syria, some of which were coordinated attacks that killed hundreds of civilians and security personnel. Although it is difficult to ascertain the identity of the perpetrators, Al Qaeda’s alleged involvement is not surprising. The raging war in Syria has taken a sectarian Sunni-Shiite bent, which allows Al Qaeda, a Sunni-based movement, to exploit and position itself as a defender of the Sunni community. Most media accounts that assert either the existence of absence of AL Qaeda in Syria are speculative and, on balance, tend to be ideologically driven.