A previously unknown jihadist group has claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in the Syrian capital and the second city Aleppo that killed dozens earlier this year, in a video seen by AFP Wednesday.
The group calling itself Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant said it carried out the attacks in Damascus and Aleppo “to avenge the people of Homs,” besieged by regime forces.
The 45-minute video posted on jihadist forums showed footage of the destruction caused by the January 6 car attack in Damascus that killed 26 people, and by a twin suicide car bombing in Aleppo on February 10 that killed 28 people.
A fighter, identified as Abu al-Baraa al-Shami and presented as the one who carried out the Damascus bombing, is heard saying he will carry out the attack to avenge a woman who was “raped” by Syrian security forces.
Shami urged Syrians to take part in jihad, or holy war.
“Brothers, hurry up and don’t wait. Jihad is now in your country ... You don’t need any fatwas,” he said.
Abu Muhammad al-Julani, identified as the group leader, accused the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of criminal activity in the rebel central city of Homs, also calling for jihad against the Syrian authorities.
“This regime will never stop except by the power of Allah and the power of weapons,” he said.
AFP could not independently verify the authenticity of the video.
The US-based monitoring group SITE Intelligence reported that the group had declared itself for the first time on January 23 in a message calling for armed struggle against the Damascus regime.
On February 16, U.S. spy chief James Clapper said that al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq probably carried out the recent suicide bombings in Syria, having infiltrated opposition forces fighting Assad’s regime.
Bomb attacks in Damascus and Aleppo since December “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda-like attack,” Clapper said at the time. “And so we believe al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria,” he said.
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has expressed support for the Syrian rebels.
On Wednesday Syrian ground forces were mopping up the last pockets of resistance in Homs, a security source said.
A human rights watchdog and an activist in the central city denied the report, but they said the rebel-held Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr was pounded by regime forces for the 26th straight day.