Syrian bombing: A jihadi attack?
The weekend bombing that killed at least 17 people was the worst of its kind since Syria's battle with the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1970s and 80s.
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They include the February car-bomb killing of Imad Mughniyah, top military commander of Lebanon's militant Shiite Hezbollah, and the assassination of a leading Syrian general and adviser to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad who had alleged links to Hezbollah.Skip to next paragraph
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"We have extremists in Iraq and in Lebanon. Any one of them can be suspects," in the Damascus bombing, says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst. "If an intelligence war has been waged by any of the usual suspects against Syria, we are in for difficult times since security is a red-line in Syria."
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States has repeatedly accused Syria of facilitating the entry of foreign Arab militants into neighboring Iraq and demanded Damascus tighten border security. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, acknowledged to the London-based Al-Hayat daily Friday that the flow of militants entering Iraq from Syria has decreased. She pinned the downturn on US and Iraqi government actions inside Iraq, rather than assistance by Syria.
President Assad last month warned of violence from jihadist militants in northern Lebanon and called on the Lebanese Army to mount a crackdown. Since May, Sunni militants in northern Lebanon have clashed with the small Alawite community, which has close links to the Syrian regime. A reconciliation agreement reached earlier this month has quelled fighting for now, but north Lebanon remains tense.
Two weeks ago, Syria deployed several thousand special forces troops along Lebanon's northern border, an unusual development that sparked speculation in Beirut that Damascus was contemplating a military incursion into its neighbor. Syria said that the deployment was nothing more than an antismuggling drive.
But Syria's state-run Al-Thawra newspaper Sunday suggested that the perpetrators of the Damascus bomb attack had come from another country.
"Syrian security is solid, but the region is throbbing with terrorists," it reported. "We need to protect our frontiers to prevent infiltration by terrorists, explosions, and acts of sabotage."
Lebanon's northern border is the favored conduit for Sunni jihadists crossing between Lebanon and Syria. North Lebanon lies close to Syria's "Sunni belt," once hotbeds of support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
"If Syria is cracking down on jihadis along the Iraq border and along the Lebanon border, then it would not be surprising if the jihadis strike back," says Andrew Tabler, editor of Syria Today magazine.