Al-Qaeda Takes Leading Role in Struggle to Topple Assad

An Al Qaida-aligned militia appears to have become the leading rebel force in the war against Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Pictured: Aftermath of a bombing in Syria
The Site Intelligence group reported that Jabhat Al Nusra, or the Al Nusra Front for the Defense of the Levant, has claimed responsibility for scores of attacks around major Syrian cities. Site, based in Washington, cited 45 claims by Al Nusra in the provinces of Damascus, Dera, Hama and Homs in November.

"In 18 communiques issued on jihadist forums -- most of which contain pictures of the attacks -- the Al Nusra Front claimed ambushes, assassinations, bombings and raids against Syrian security forces and Shabiha, pro-Bashar Assad thugs," Site said.

On Dec. 20, the opposition reported a rebel advance in the Hama province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels attacked Syrian Army checkpoints in Morek, located along the Damascus road to Aleppo.

"It [Morek] has eight checkpoints and two security and military headquarters," Syrian Observatory said. "If the rebels were able to control the town they would completely sever the supply lines between Hama and Damascus to Idlib province."

Rebel sources said Al Nusra, whose commander was identified as Abu Mohammed Al Golani, has become a dominant force in the revolt against Assad. They said the militia, believed funded by Qatar, was coordinating with other rebel forces in attacks on Syrian Army and other regime facilities. Many rebels have joined Al Nusra because they are by far the most organized and financed of the movements," a rebel source said. "Their network is vast."

The sources said Al Nusra has sought to lead the campaign in the Damascus area. They reported heavy losses amid air and artillery strikes by the Syrian military in December.

Those who work with Al Nusra, designated a terrorist group by the United States, included Ahrar Al Sham and Liwa Al Tawhid unit. A leading Middle East analyst said Al Nusra has won support from civilians by relaying food and other aid.

"The Jahbat Al Nusra organization, which is identified with the Iraqi branch of Al Qaida, is considered one of the most powerful forces among the rebels and enjoys extensive popular sympathy both because of its battlefield achievements and the aid it provides to the population," Israeli analyst Jonathan Halevi said. "The full backing of the fighting forces for Jahbat against the U.S. and the West likely indicates the future direction of the Syrian revolution, which appears ready to adopt Islamism as the main basis of the government that will replace the Assad regime."

SOURCE: World Tribune
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