Al Qaeda's Zawahiri calls for war to oust Syria's Assad
In a video message, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for Muslims to rally for a war to oust Syria's Bashar al-Assad.
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After Friday's bombings in Aleppo, Zuheir al-Atasi, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, accused the government of staging the attacks.
"After the heavy explosions, members of the opposition went to the site to film it. There were ambulances but no corpses. We documented that on tape," he said in Vienna during a gathering of Syrian opposition groups. "When the Syrian National TV arrived they started to bring out corpses. Once again we witnessed a theater play."
There is virtually no way to determine who was behind the attacks or to perform an independent investigation in Syria, one of the most authoritarian states in the Middle East. Assad has largely sealed off the country and prevented reporters from moving freely. The Arab League sent a now-suspended observer mission into the country to provide an outside view, but government minders accompanied the team.
The dangers of chaos
Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, a think tank in the Qatari capital, said prolonged chaos in Syria could open the door to militant groups like Al Qaeda.
"The longer this goes on, we may get a more permissive environment in Syria for these kinds of characters as the Syrian people get more and more desperate," he said. "I don't think they would be welcomed in Syria but there may be desperate people in Syria who are looking for any kind of help."
Still, Shaikh is not convinced that Saturday's statement was anything more than the terrorist group trying to reassert its influence in the Middle East, now that the Arab Spring uprisings have, in many ways, pushed it to the sidelines.
"Al-Zawahri's pronouncement, to me, is a propaganda effort that says, 'We're alive and well in the Mideast,'" he said.
He acknowledged that the suggestion that Al Qaeda could become involved in the uprising could have a "chilling effect" on efforts by the West to stem the bloodshed.
"Certainly the US policymakers are advised by their last experience and their last experience is Iraq. So yes, I presume there would be alarm and hesitation in getting further involved," he said.
In Saturday's Internet posting, Zawahri asked Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against Assad's regime, saying Syrian rebels must not rely on the West. Syria was the third largest supplier of foreign fighters during the height of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, after Saudi Arabia and Libya.
"Don't depend on the West and Turkey, which had deals, mutual understanding and sharing with this regime for decades and only began to abandon it after they saw it faltering," Zawahiri said. "Instead, depend on Allah alone and then on your sacrifices, resistance, and steadfastness."
He urged Syrians to oppose help from the Arab League and "its corrupt agent governments."
Hours later, a Sunni sheik in Iraq's northern Kurdish region said a group of clerics in the area is calling for a jihad, or holy war, against Assad's regime.
"Jihad is the duty of every Muslim against the Assad regime," said Sheik Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Karim Barzanji, describing the edict issued by the Union of the Scholars of Islam in Kurdistan. "Any support from any Muslim or country is forbidden."