Syria: Al-Qaida to blame for intelligence HQ blasts

44 killed in attack; Opposition, analysts suspect inside job; Damascus: Bombs may be part of "Zionist-American project."

Syria funeral 311 (photo credit: SANA/Reuters)
Syria funeral 311
(photo credit: SANA/Reuters)
Two massive car bombs exploded outside Syrian intelligence headquarters on Friday, killing 44 people on the eve of the arrival of Arab League monitors hoping to oversee implementation of a deal to stop nine months of bloodshed.
Syrian authorities blamed the attacks on al-Qaida, but analysts and opposition members said the timing of the blasts suggests they may have been an inside job perpetrated by the government of President Bashar Assad.
The UN Security Council issued a statement denouncing the attacks and “terrorism in all its forms,” but a resolution condemning Syria continues to be stalled by Russia, which has insisted both sides of the conflict be blamed equally.
Sudanese Gen. Muhammad Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi was scheduled to arrive in Damascus late on Saturday as head of the Arab League monitoring mission.
“I am optimistic that the mission of the monitors will be successful and that events such as yesterday’s blasts in Damascus will not affect the mission,” he told reporters earlier in Cairo.
But the choice of Dabi to lead the delegation has already stoked criticism from human rights groups that note he was head of Sudan’s Military Intelligence at a time when mass killings were taking place in Darfur.
“It is perplexing that the Arab League chose [Dabi] to lead its team monitoring the Syria regime, because of his record of turning a blind eye to human rights crimes, or worse,” the US-based Enough Project said.
Dabi held a number of high-level appointments in the Sudanese government from the 1980s on.
“When he served as Sudan’s former head of Military Intelligence and when he oversaw implementation of the Darfur Security Arrangement, alleged war crimes including genocide were committed on his watch,” the group said.
Jamie Fly, executive director of the Washington-based Foreign Policy Initiative, said the Syrian authorities’ contention that Friday’s explosions were the work of terrorists rang hollow.
“I’m a bit skeptical,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “The timing seems somewhat suspect, as it came right as the Arab League monitors were arriving, and of course the Syrians took them to the scene immediately and accused the opposition of sowing terrorism.”
Fly said he feared the Arab League monitors – the first 50 of whom are set to arrive on Monday – could be used as fig leaves to buy Damascus more time.
“I have been somewhat impressed by how the Arab League has criticized the Assad regime and imposed sanctions. But my fear is that monitors’ access to a lot of locations will be severely restricted and that they will only see one side of the story,” Fly said.
“Given the scope and scale of the violence we’ve seen over the last week, increasingly I think we need some kind of outside intervention to protect civilians,” he continued.
“My fear is that the Arab League won’t move as quickly in that direction as long as the regime is cooperating with this concept of monitors.”
The Foreign Policy Initiative was co-sponsored last week with an open letter signed by some 50 policy experts and sent to US President Barack Obama urging stronger American leadership on Syria.
Independent estimates put Syria’s death toll at at least 5,000 since March, though the true figure could be much higher. The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 15 civilians were killed by security forces outside the capital on Friday, eight of them in Homs, a bastion of the revolt.
On Saturday, thousands of Syrians chanted “Death to America” during funeral processions in Damascus for the 44 people killed the day before. Demonstrators cheered Assad, called for revenge and denounced Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, who has become one of Assad’s main Arab critics.
The crowd, carrying posters of Assad and Syrian flags, chanted, “We want your head, Hamad,” “We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Bashar,” and “God, Syria and Bashar only.”
The coffins, draped in Syrian flags, were lined up inside the gilded 8th-century Umayyad Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in scenes shown on state TV. Many were marked “unknown.”
Hamas condemned the bombings and called for a “quick” political solution to end the bloodshed.
The Islamist group that governs the Gaza Strip has its headquarters in Damascus, but diplomats say dozens of its operatives have quietly returned to Gaza as it scaled back its presence in Syria and gauged the uncertain future of Assad. Hamas denies such reports.
The UN Security Council’s statement condemned the attacks.
“Terrorism in all its forms and manifestations constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security, and... any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable,” it said.
Western powers say the security forces have perpetrated most of the violence in Syria. But Moscow, an old ally of Damascus, wants any UN resolution on the crisis to be even-handed.
“If the requirement is that we drop all reference to violence coming from extreme opposition, that’s not going to happen,” UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in New York after Russia submitted a revised draft resolution to the council.
“If they expect us to have an arms embargo, that’s not going to happen,” he said. “The experience of Libya showed it would be one-sided and used against the government.”
Saad Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister whose father was killed in 2005 by a car bomb widely attributed to Syria, wrote on his Twitter feed that Friday’s explosion “was engineered by the Syrian regime.”
Hariri wrote that a supposed warning from Lebanon’s Hezbollah- led, pro-Syrian government that al-Qaida operatives had infiltrated Syria this week was “fabricated by the Syrian ministry and some of its tools in Lebanon.”
Syria’s official SANA news agency quoted Lebanese MP Walid Sukariyeh as saying the attacks appear to benefit the “Zio-American project.”
Sukariyeh, a lawmaker from Hezbollah’s March 8 Alliance, said the explosions “came in the service of the Zio-American project that rejects any solution in Syria and any call for national dialogue, and is aimed at undermining the resistance forces in the region.
“The criminality, which started with terrorist acts against the civilians and the military, has now developed into terrorist suicide operations in al-Qaida style,” he told Syrian TV.
SANA also quoted Amin Hoteit, a former Lebanese Army general, as saying the “agents of the West and Israel have started carrying out the terrorist acts plan after the failure of the Zio-American-European plot to undermine Syria.”
In a separate story, SANA reported that Druse residents of the Golan Heights had joined citizens across Syria in rallying against the attacks.
“The people of the occupied Syrian Golan stressed that terrorism which struck in Damascus on Friday reflects the criminality of the armed groups and their sponsors,” SANA said.
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“In a rally at Sultan Pasha al- Atrash Square in the occupied Majdal Shams, hundreds from Golan expressed condemnation of the twin terrorist attacks which claimed the lives of scores of citizens, stressing standing by their motherland Syria against challenges,” it said.
“The people of Golan said that the attacks prove the scope of conspiracy against Syria, voicing readiness to sacrifice their blood for preserving the dignity of Syria.”
Reuters contributed to this report.