As the Syrian conflict escalates, and the country threatens to descend into all-out sectarian strife, Al Qaeda-like activists and factions will go to further lengths to establish a foothold in the country as they did in Iraq after the US invasion in 2003. Their success will depend on how Syrians react to these foreign fighters and whether the aggrieved Sunni community will provide shelter.
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.