Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Growth of Al-Qaida in Syria Increases Chances of Chemical Weapons Attack in Europe

December 14, 2012 5:07 pm 0 comments

Chemical weapons collected after Libya's National Transitional Council declared full liberation of the country. Similar weapons are believed to be inside Syria. Photo: Giovanni Diffidenti.

Joby Warrick, The Washington Post’s correspondent who specializes in intelligence, wrote a story on Dec. 3 about how the Syrian rebellion was already spilling over and having an impact on neighboring countries. He focused in particular on Jordan. According to interviews he conducted, last month Jordanian security forces arrested 11 men and thus foiled a massive planned terrorist attack in the heart of Amman.

The Amman attack was supposed to begin with suicide bombings at two shopping malls to be followed by strikes against luxury hotels used by Westerners. But the main target in Amman was the U.S. Embassy, which was to be assaulted with mortar shells. Most of the suspects captured were Jordanian Salafists, who fought in Syria, which served as their new training ground. Moreover, the same explosives that were to be used in the Amman attacks were found in Syria as well.

But the key player orchestrating many operations in Syria, and also now in Jordan, was the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida. It had been incorrectly assumed that al-Qaida had been vanquished in 2007 by General David Petraeus during the surge of U.S. forces in Iraq. Recent events in Syria and Jordan demonstrate that it has been rehabilitating itself.

James Clapper, President Obama’s director of U.S. National Intelligence, noted this past February that al-Qaida in Iraq was infiltrating the Syrian uprising and extending its network into Syrian territory. This process was supported by the al-Qaida leadership. For at about the same time, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of the global al-Qaida network, appeared in a video and urged jihadists in Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon to fight the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The Iraqi branch of al-Qaida was the natural partner to take up Zawahiri’s call. During the Iraq War, al-Qaida there used Syria as a rear base for its insurgency operations against the U.S. armed forces. It had a logistical network of safe houses and sympathizers it had built. Bruce Reidel, who specialized on the Middle East and counterterrorism when he served at the CIA, told The Washington Post recently that al-Qaida in Iraq was now rebuilding these old networks “at an alarming rate.” He also warned that the new Iraqi branch of al-Qaida was coming back as a “regional movement.” What he meant was that its targets would be in neighboring countries and not just in Iraq.

Specialists looking into the Syrian rebellion have pointed out that several of the jihadi groups fighting Assad rely on al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch. For example, there are the Abdullah Azzam Brigades (named for Osama bin Laden’s mentor), which was originally established in 2005 as a branch of Iraqi al-Qaida. Its current commander, a Saudi named Majid bin Muhammad al-Majid, fought with the former al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It has been involved in Southern Jordan and in the Sinai Peninsula. It also launched rocket attacks on Israel. It is now also beginning to raise its profile in Syria.

There is also Jabhat al-Nusra, the most deadly of the Syrian jihadist organizations, which has been joined by operatives from al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch. The stature of Jabhat al-Nusra, in particular, has grown lately because of a string of battlefield successes in Aleppo and Damascus. When the U.S. designated the Jabhat al-Nusra as an international terrorist organization, most of the other opposition groups strongly protested, despite its al-Qaida connections.

The involvement of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida in the Syrian rebellion is important to follow for another reason. Al-Qaida has proven itself to be an organization with a strong interest in chemical weapons. In April 2004, Jordanian security forces foiled a plot by the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida to attack the Jordanian intelligence headquarters and the Office of the Prime Minister in Amman with tons of chemical agents. One captured terrorist confessed on Jordanian television to be part of Zarqawi’s al-Qaida network.

Should Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles fall into the hands of jihadi forces, with connections to al-Qaida in Iraq, it is likely that these non-conventional capabilities could spread further. The Zarqawi network operated in Europe and planned in the past to use chemical weapons in an attack on the Paris subway system. Thus given the ideological orientation of the groups currently operating in Syria, what happens in the next few weeks will have broader implications for the rest of the Middle East and even beyond.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Opinion The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin (REVIEW)

    The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love. CreateSpace, 2015. The Syrian Virgin, by Zack Love, is a very interesting novel. Equally a political and romantic thriller, at times a real page-turner, it gets you intimately involved in the dire situation in today’s Syria, as well as in the romantic entanglements of its mostly New York-based characters — whose entanglements just might determine the fate of that dire situation in Syria. Along the way it introduces a really important idea that somehow […]

    Read more →
  • Features Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    Unpacking the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and Its Ripple Effect on Israel’s Region

    JNS.org – Aside from Israel itself, those with a vested interest in the Jewish state are accustomed to tracking developments related to Middle East players such as Iran, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. But much global attention has recently focused on the Caucasus region at the Europe-Asia border, specifically on the suddenly intensified violence between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh area of western Azerbaijan. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, while not taking place in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, does have what one scholar called […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    Earth Day 2016: Israel Shines in Water Technology, Recycling, Renewable Energy

    JNS.org – On Friday, April 22, 196 nations across the world mark Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Not to be forgotten on this day is Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment. For Earth Day 2016, JNS.org presents a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm. Water conservation Israeli […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture World New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    New Documentary Explores Holocaust Humor, Role That Laughter Played in Death Camps

    Holocaust humor and the role that laughter played in the lives of Jews during World War II are the focus of a documentary that made its world premiere on Monday at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. In The Last Laugh, first- and second-generation survivors, as well as famous Jewish and non-Jewish comedians, discuss their thoughts on when joking about the death camps is appropriate or taboo. “Nazi humor, that’s OK. Holocaust humor, no,” Jewish comedic giant, actor and filmmaker Mel Brooks says in the film. “Anything I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    Tragedy Culminates in ‘Celebration,’ Says Israeli Author Who Lost Son to Terror

    JNS.org – Sherri Mandell’s life was devastated on May 8, 2001, when her 13-year-old son Koby was murdered by terrorists on the outskirts of the Israeli Jewish community of Tekoa. Yet Mandell not only shares the story of her loss, but also celebrates the lessons she has learned from tragedy. Indeed, “celebrate” is this Israeli-American author’s word choice. Her second book, The Road to Resilience: From Chaos to Celebration (Toby Press), came out earlier this year. The lesson: in every celebration, there is […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    For Alan Gross, Cuban Prison Didn’t Harden His Heart or Weaken His Ambition

    JNS.org – Alan Gross used to be nothing more to me than a tragic headline. When I started my position at this news service in July 2011, Gross had been imprisoned in Cuba since December 2009 for what that country called “crimes against the state.” Gross, a subcontractor for the United States Agency for International Development, went to Cuba to help the Jewish community there access the Internet. After his arrest, he received a trial he describes as a “B movie,” […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Features New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    New Movie Shows How Global Economic Instability Grew From Very Local Greed

    JNS.org – When I saw the recent Academy Award-winning film “The Big Short,” I was struck by the sheer genius of the financiers who devised the schemes and packaged the loans for resale, but it left me with unanswered questions about how the properties these loans represented were moved. “The Big Short” was largely about paper transactions, big money, and wealthy investors, and it mildly touched on the way the actual end-users — the home buyers and brokers — played into this […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Psychiatry and the Spirit

    Why do we think so negatively about psychiatrists that we still insult them by calling them shrinks? Some medics might be quacks, but we don’t generally refer to them as witches! Shrinks; The Untold Story of Psychiatry, by Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, is a sobering account of how psychiatry has swung from a marginal, unscientific mixture of weird theories into one of the most common and pervasive forms of treatment of what are commonly called “disorders of the mind.” Is it […]

    Read more →