All agree on Qaeda link in Syria attack
US intelligence services indicate ‘an al-Qaeda presence in Syria,’ Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says, adding that the extent of the group’s activity is unclear. AFP photoThe United States, the Syrian regime and the opposition have all pointed to al-Qaeda involvement in the twin car explosions that killed 55 people on May 10 in Damascus. However, an opposition group has blamed the Syrian regime for links to the al-Qaeda forces responsible for the blasts.
The Obama administration on May 10 condemned the suicide attacks and expressed concern that al-Qaeda may be increasingly taking advantage of the country’s prolonged instability. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters that U.S. intelligence indicates “an al-Qaeda presence in Syria,” but said the extent of its activity was unclear. “Frankly we need to continue to do everything we can to determine what kind of influence they’re trying to exert there,” Panetta said.
At the White House, press secretary Jay Carney said, “We do not believe this kind of attack that you saw in Damascus is representative of the opposition.”
Tens of thousands of protesters defied regime gunfire and took to the streets on May 11 across Syria after weekly Muslim prayers to protest the recent blasts. Troops shot and wounded five protesters in the capital and 20 in the Hama town of Helfaya, where two civilians also died. One demonstrator was also killed in the northern city of Aleppo, according to activists.
For its part, state television said troops had killed a would-be suicide bomber in the city. “The Syrian authorities have foiled an attempted suicide attack in the Al-Shaar area of Aleppo, and killed the would-be attacker,” the channel said, adding that the attacker’s car was laden with 1,200 kilos of explosives. Elsewhere in the country, five civilians were wounded when regime troops opened fire in the Tadamon neighborhood of Damascus to quell protests, said activists.
The government has blamed “terrorists” for the May 10 bombings. Opposition leaders and activists blamed the al-Assad regime for orchestrating attacks to demonize the opposition. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Thursday’s bombings.
Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun, chief of the opposition Syrian National Council, said the explosions appeared to be the work of al-Qaeda forces that he said were linked to the al-Assad regime, speaking at a news conference in Tokyo.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed deep sorrow over the bomb attack and wrote: “We strongly condemn this attack,” in a statement on May 10. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoðlu called on the U.N. Security Council to “send a strong message to the Syrian regime” to stop violence, during a visit to Estonia. The U.N. Security Council has also condemned the attacks.
European nationals among rebel fighters: Syria
Syria’s U.N. envoy Bashar al-Jaafari told the Security Council that British, French and Belgian nationals were among the 12 foreign fighters killed and 26 detained in recent clashes with Syrian forces. A list of the 26 detained has been sent to U.N. Security Council.
Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.