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Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri reiterated his call for jihad against the Syrian dictatorship in a message posted on the Internet yesterday. The conflict in Syria pits the Assad regime, Iran and Hezbollah against the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and the Arab states. Non-Islamist Syrians desiring genuine democracy, including the Christian minority, are caught in-between.
Zawahiri tells Muslims to support the uprising “with all that he can, with his life, money, opinion, as well as information.” The message comes after 25 were killed and 175 were wounded in two suicide bombings in Aleppo of security service buildings. The attacks are believed to have been directly ordered by Ayman al-Zawahiri and carried out by Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq.
He is especially concerned about how foreign powers will influence the Syrian opposition as it looks for outside help.
“Our people in Syria, don’t rely on the West or the United States or Arab governments and Turkey,” Zawahiri says.
His video was released on the same day that the Arab League asked the United Nations to send a peacekeeping force into Syria and agreed to “materially” support the opposition, likely paving the way for military assistance to the Free Syria Army that is fighting the regime’s forces.
The Muslim Brotherhood, unlike Al-Qaeda, is happy to accept foreign military intervention if it will lead to victory. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Brotherhood cleric, declared that it is permissible for Muslims to welcome U.N.-backed intervention in Syria if the Arab states are unable to stop the violence.
Al-Qaeda has had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Assad regime. Syria has imprisoned members of Al-Qaeda, as the terrorist group is ideologically committed to replacing the regime with Islamist rule. Assad has also helped Al-Qaeda when their interests have aligned, particularly in Iraq and Lebanon. Relations between Iraq and Syria hit the breaking point in 2009 when the Iraqis released evidence that the Assad regime was backing Al-Qaeda and other terrorists carrying out attacks in Iraq. The relationship has healed since then as Iranian influence over Iraq has grown.
The Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister says that terrorists are crossing the border into Syria and shipping arms to the opposition fighting Assad. The price of a Kalashnikov assault rifle has increased from $100-200 to $1000-$1500 because of the rise in demand, he claims. However, the Iraqi government is backing Assad and could just be trying to substantiate the dictatorship’s claims that it is only fighting “armed gangs” and terrorists.
Since coming to power in 2000, Bashar Assad’s strategy has been to portray his regime as the only thing stopping an Islamist takeover. Secular democratic voices are silenced while the jihadist rhetoric of Islamists is often allowed. The regime recently released a top Al-Qaeda prisoner, Abu Musab al-Suri, who used to lead the terrorist group’s operations in Europe. He oversaw the 2005 bombings in London and was involved in the 2004 bombings in Madrid.
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