partlycloudy
Tuesday September 26th, 2017 4:02PM

Al-Qaida steps up violence against Syrian government

By The Associated Press
Related Articles
  Contact Editor

BEIRUT (AP) — Under pressure from fellow insurgents and escalating airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, Syria's al-Qaida branch is stepping up violence against President Bashar Assad's strongholds with precise, high-profile attacks, including a surprising breach of the capital in the most serious infiltration in years.

Sunday's attack, in which insurgents used tunnels they control in northeastern Damascus neighborhoods to hit government positions, appears to have caught the Syrian military off guard. It was a grim reminder that the fighting is far from over, despite significant advances by Assad's forces against rebels across the country in the past year.

The government dispatched some of its elite forces to halt the offensive, which began shortly before sunrise with two suicide bombers from an al-Qaida-linked group. The bombers, a Saudi and a Syrian, detonated their explosives-laden trucks against army positions on the eastern edge of the capital amid a barrage of artillery shells that landed in the heart of Damascus.

Dozens of insurgents penetrated the city's defenses and captured several blocks northeast of Damascus, triggering fierce clashes that lasted for hours before the fighters were pushed back to where they started.

Insurgent groups repeatedly have tried to break Damascus' defenses in recent years. Syria's al-Qaida's branch has used suicide bombers targeting government security installations since the early days of the conflict.

Sunday's incursion, however, was the most serious since 2012, when rebels captured several Damascus neighborhoods before being crushed by government forces. It was the latest in a series of stepped-up attacks claimed by the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

The gains, though short-lived, came against the backdrop of months of steady rebel losses to government forces across the country. It appeared to be an attempt by al-Qaida to mount sophisticated attacks against high-value targets to portray itself as the main force capable of fighting the government.

"Every time they can successfully carry out one of these, then it bolsters their case within the armed opposition," said Sam Heller, a Beirut fellow at the U.S.-based Century Foundation.

The Levant Liberation Committee, the latest spinoff from Syria's al-Qaida branch, has claimed several other high-profile attacks in government-controlled areas recently.

They include two attacks earlier in March that killed at least 40 people, mostly Shiite pilgrims, in Damascus, and another synchronized attack last month by insurgents storming heavily guarded security offices in the central city of Homs and then blowing themselves up, killing more than 30 officers.

The uptick in attacks comes at a time when the al-Qaida-linked group is trying to distance itself publicly from the international terrorist network and imposing unity on other insurgent factions. So far, those efforts have largely failed, instead sparking tensions with other rebel factions.

In July, al-Qaida's branch in Syria — then known as the Nusra Front — said it had cut its links with the international terrorist group and renamed itself the Fatah al-Sham Front. After clashes with moderate rebel factions earlier this year, it began leading a coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee that consists of five groups and has since been urging other insurgents to join it.

The extremist group opposes peace talks between the opposition and the government taking place in Geneva and the Kazakh capital of Astana, aimed at forging a diplomatic settlement to Syria's civil war. Last week, the conflict entered its seventh year with about 400,000 people dead and half the country's population displaced.

Another round of U.N.-led talks is to take place in Geneva later this week.

A wave of coalition aerial attacks has killed some senior al-Qaida commanders in Syria in the past year, adding more pressure on the group.

Analysts say al-Qaida's best bet to deal with the current challenges is to provoke an escalation in violence to remain relevant and try to attract other factions to its fold, particularly after rebels lost Aleppo, their most important stronghold, in late December.

"We will escalate our operations in the coming days, and our soldiers will reach them in the heart of their fortifications," said Levant Liberation Committee commander Hashem al-Sheik, also known as Abu Jaber, in a YouTube video posted last week to mark the sixth anniversary of the war. He was referring to Assad's troops and government.

The Century Foundation's Heller said the insurgents' primary audience for the attacks in Homs and against the pilgrims in Damascus "seems to have been the Syrian opposition constituency to whom they're trying to establish themselves as the champion and the heart of the opposition against the Assad regime."

Al-Qaida's branch in Syria is vowing more such attacks, saying that force is the only way to deal with Assad's government.

Fatah al-Sham leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani said in an online video that the Homs attack should be a lesson to opposition politicians taking part in peace talks, adding that they "should leave the field to the fighters and step aside."

Al-Sheik urged all other rebel and militant groups to unite.

"Let's put our hands together and open a new page in our revolution in order to protect our country," he said.

___

Associated Press writers Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, contributed.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP World News
© Copyright 2017 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
London Bridge attacker tried to rent larger truck
The carnage of the London Bridge attack could have been worse: One of the attackers tried to rent a larger truck that could have killed more people, but his payment was declined
3:51AM ( 58 minutes ago )
Same place as last year: Warriors up 3-1, NBA Finals go west
The NBA Finals are right where they were last year and could still end with the same finish
3:31AM ( 1 hour ago )
Marches against Islamic law to be held in many US cities
Marches against Islamic law being held in more than two dozen cities across the United States
3:06AM ( 1 hour ago )
Associated Press (AP)
As Tillerson calls for calm, Trump calls out Qatar on terror
President Donald Trump is accusing Qatar of funding terrorism at a "very high level" and says it must stop now
2:29AM ( 2 hours ago )
Trump denies seeking Comey 'loyalty,' dodges tapes question
Trump denies asking Comey for 'loyalty,' says he'd say so under oath, but dodges questions about tapes
2:26AM ( 2 hours ago )
Cavs halt Warriors perfect postseason, party in Game 4
Another comeback? Cavaliers down Warriors 137-116 in Game 4 to stay alive in NBA Finals
2:03AM ( 2 hours ago )
AP National News
The Latest: LeBron's presence on floor changes everything
Golden State was rallying in Game 4 of the NBA Finals
11:45PM ( 5 hours ago )
The Latest: Cavaliers lead 115-96 heading into 4th quarter
Kyrie Irving has 32 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers lead Golden State 115-96 after three quarters of Game 4 of the NBA Finals
11:29PM ( 5 hours ago )
The Latest: Cavs still in control of Game 4 in 3rd quarter
Cleveland is still in control of Game 4 in the NBA Finals
11:14PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Online National News
The Latest: Giants' Beckham tells Curry, you can lose 1
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had a message for Stephen Curry as he was walking through security before Game 4 of the NBA Finals
8:51PM ( 7 hours ago )
Brazil's Temer gets big victory in electoral court ruling
Brazil's Temer, struggling to keep his job amid scandal, gets huge victory when country's top electoral court voted to reject allegations of campaign finance violations
8:34PM ( 8 hours ago )
Polanski's victim pleads to end case: 'He owes me nothing'
Roman Polanski's sexual assault victim has asked a judge to end the 40-year-old case against the fugitive director
8:22PM ( 8 hours ago )
Top General short headlines
Kosovo's general election poses headaches for the winner
Kosovars go to the polls Sunday to choose the new 120-seat parliament that will face some seemingly intractable issues
2:03AM ( 2 hours ago )
With court victory, hand of Brazil president strengthened
Brazil's top electoral court gives embattled President Michel Temer a big victory, voting to reject allegations of campaign finance allegations that would have removed him from office
12:01AM ( 4 hours ago )
193 nations urge action to protect oceans _ with US protest
The 193 UN member nations are issuing an urgent call for action to reverse the decline in the health and productivity of the world's oceans _ with the US dissociating itself from the document's support for the Paris agreement to tackle climate change
10:59PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP World News
London Bridge attacker tried to rent larger truck
The carnage of the London Bridge attack could have been worse: One of the attackers tried to rent a larger truck that could have killed more people, but his payment was declined
3:51AM ( 59 minutes ago )
Same place as last year: Warriors up 3-1, NBA Finals go west
The NBA Finals are right where they were last year and could still end with the same finish
3:31AM ( 1 hour ago )
Marches against Islamic law to be held in many US cities
Marches against Islamic law being held in more than two dozen cities across the United States
3:06AM ( 1 hour ago )
13 Philippine marines killed in fighting with militants
The Philippine military says 13 marines have been killed in fierce fighting with Muslim militants who have laid siege to southern Marawi city
3:05AM ( 1 hour ago )
Bono-roo: U2 make their first U.S. festival appearance
U2 make first headlining appearance at U.S. music festival at Bonnaroo
2:59AM ( 1 hour ago )