`Al Qaeda members crossing into Syria from Iraq`
Presence of al Qaeda groups creates new difficulties for Arab and Western countries trying to help force President Bashar Assad from power.
Baghdad: Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari on Thursday said that al Qaeda members were going into Syria to carry out terror attacks.
Speaking at a news conference in Baghdad, Zebari said: "We have solid information and intelligence that members of al Qaeda terrorist networks have gone in the other direction, to Syria, to help, to liaise, to carry out terrorist attacks.”
Zebari’s statement comes two days after an al Qaeda-inspired group claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks across Syria.
The Syrian regime has long blamed terrorists for the 16-month-old revolt, and the presence of al Qaeda groups creates new difficulties for Arab and Western countries trying to help force President Bashar Assad from power.
The opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army deny having any links to terrorism, and say they do not have the desire or the capabilities to carry out massive suicide bombings and other al Qaeda-style attacks.
On Tuesday, the SITE monitoring group, which tracks jihadist chatter on the Internet, said the Al-Nusra Front released statements on extremist websites in late June claiming the attacks were to avenge the killings of Syrians by the government.
One of the attacks targeted a pro-regime television station in the town of Drousha, south of the capital, Damascus, on June 27. Seven people were killed in the attack on Al-Ikhbariya TV.
Al-Nusra said the station is an arm of the regime and the attack sought to make the station “taste from the cup of torture” and force every member of the regime to wonder: “When will my turn come?”
The statement included photos of 11 men it said were kidnapped in the attack.
Al-Ikhbariya is privately owned but often acts as a regime mouthpiece.
Other attacks in the latest claim of responsibility include dozens of armed raids and bombings, including suicide bombings, in Syrian cities.
Little is known about Al-Nusra, although Western intelligence officials say it could be a front for a branch of al Qaeda militants from Iraq operating in Syria.
The group has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks in Syria, including suicide bombings, in the past.
In February, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims to support Syrian rebels.
“Wounded Syria is still bleeding day after day, and the butcher (Bashar Assad) isn’t deterred and doesn’t stop,” al-Zawahri said at the time. He took over al Qaeda after Osama bin Laden was killed by US special forces last May.
Although the Syrian opposition disavows links to terror, the presence of al Qaeda among the forces fighting to oust Assad is a serious complicating factor for the international powers that say they want to help the opposition without empowering extremists along the way.
The Syrian regime is dominated by members of the Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.
But Sunnis make up most of the population of 22 million and are the backbone of the opposition.
More than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began, according to activists. Despite global outrage over the crackdown by the Assad regime, the international response has been focused entirely on diplomacy and sanctions as the violence escalates.
(With Agency inputs)