Al-Qaeda Affiliate Claims Responsibility for Aleppo Blasts

A string of deadly explosions struck central Aleppo on Tuesday and an al-Qaeda-affiliated group, al-Nusra Front, claimed responsibility for the attack. As-Safir spoke with residents and activists in Aleppo, who describe the growing influence of al-Qaeda-inspired groups in the fight for Syria.

al-monitor Syrian army trucks are seen amid wreckage and damaged buildings, after blasts ripped through Aleppo's main Saadallah al-Jabari Square, Oct, 3, 2012.  Photo by REUTERS/George Ourfalian.

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syrian, jihadists, aleppo clashes, aleppo, al-qaeda

Oct 4, 2012

As if Aleppo needed further bloodshed, a series of bomb explosions rocked the heart of the country’s economic capital yesterday [Oct. 3].

The attacks served as the last straw for many who believe that the situation in Aleppo has become very dangerous, given the ongoing conflict between opposition groups and forces loyal to the [Syrian] regime on one hand, and conflicts among various opposition groups on the other.

Aleppo has become a main battleground in the ongoing conflict between various sides in the conflict, involving battalions from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), and — in particular — several groups of different orientations and allegiances. This includes the al-Nusra Front — the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda — which has claimed responsibility for the bombing in Aleppo this time.

Activists described to As-Safir what happened in Aleppo yesterday. At 7:45 p.m. local time, people heard the sound of two explosions. It later became apparent that the noise was emanating from the vicinity of the municipal palace, near Saadallah al-Jabri Square in central Aleppo. The blasts were heard in all of the surrounding areas. Hardly a minute passed before people heard a burst of heavy gunfire in the vicinity of the square. Although the source of the two explosions remains unknown, many residents believe that they were the result of a rocket attack, as they heard the sound of an object dropping before it exploded.

Afterwards, people said they heard the sound of gunfire coming from all sides of the square. According to residents living near the municipal palace, shots were fired in order to open the road, and there were no clashes in sight.

It must be noted that the wave of explosions targeted the entire region, stretching from al-Muroor street — near al-Hal market — all the way to Jabir Square. The area is completely cordoned off and people are not allowed to enter. In other words, the square is completely empty. There are no signs of any civilians. After 7 p.m., the square became reminiscent of a graveyard, in every sense of the word. There were no cars or civilians, and even no armed officers, with the exception of the security forces.

Also, the region is frequently under tight security. Security barriers are deployed across the area, and snipers have been positioned on the roof of a government building, where they have a clear view of whatever happens on the ground.

One of the activists in Aleppo told As-Safir that the explosions were either the result of a rocket attack or explosive devices that were planted in advance. However, there is another scenario, which was reported by the media, saying that the blasts were carried out by two suicide bombers in cars. This scenario is not really plausible, since no cars are allowed to park within one kilometer of the square.

However, the most surprising thing is that the al-Nusra Front has claimed responsibility for this bombing in the heart of Aleppo. The group has previously claimed responsibility for several explosions in various Syria cities, most notably a car bomb that exploded in front of the military intelligence headquarters in the al-Kazzaz district [of Damascus] in May.

Al-Nusra Front is considered the main wing of al-Qaeda in Syria. It is worth noting that on the same day, the group also claimed responsibility for the execution of dozens of regime-affiliated soldiers, who were all shot dead.

The militant group does not consider itself to be affiliated with the FSA. None of its leaders make media appearances and the front does not communicate or coordinate with the FSA leaders. Al-Nusra Front is stationed in many cities, including Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and Idlib. It is well known that the group has not adopted the old Syrian flag, which FSA soldiers were keen to hold high. Instead, the militant group uses banners similar to those used by al-Qaeda in its major operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.

Many activists have talked about the front’s impressive capabilities demonstrated in its operations, which far exceeds most of the FSA’s artillery. The FSA has always maintained that they lack appropriate weaponry and ammunition. The group also outstrips the Salafist brigades in Syria in this respect.

Furthermore, activists spoke of different developments taking place in Aleppo. They talked about the so-called “Battle for the Liberation of Aleppo,” which was recently announced. According to activists, this battle serves as mere media hype, in order to overshadow the ongoing conflict between various battalions in the city.

The conflict is particularly rife between the Unification Brigade — which includes a number of armed groups — and other groups that have refused to join its ranks, or preferred to work independently and demanded that other groups join the Unification Brigade as prerequisite for them to join.

Many suggest that militant groups did not make any sizable progress in gaining control of Aleppo, as the fight for control is still ongoing. Other battalions are complaining about the delay in receiving arms, in light of continuing fragmentation.

However, the al-Nusra Front works independently and is not linked to any of the other groups in Syria. Rather, it is affiliated with Salafist organizations abroad.

Activists in Aleppo and Damascus believe that the Salafist Front did not encounter many difficulties when forming, especially given that many regions they are stationed in are fertile ground for jihadist action.

Many activists claim that hundreds of people from these regions managed to head to Iraq during the United States-led occupation in order to fight alongside these militant groups, only to return back to Syria.

Thus, the group’s militants have combat experience and training. This is not to mention the care they receive from al-Qaeda, which until recently had not considered Syria to be within its operations framework. However, things have changed and the front is now drowning the country in a bloodbath.

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