UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has acknowledged for the first time that groups affiliated with al-Qaeda were operating in Syria, but at the same time accused the Syrian regime of targeted mass murder.
“We … have reason to believe that terrorist groups affiliated to al-Qaeda have committed attacks designed to exacerbate the violence, with serious implications for international security,” Hague said in a speech to the parliament, the Guardian reported on Tuesday.
President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus insists that the armed opposition, the Free Syrian Army, and al-Qaeda affiliates are responsible for most of the killing and the bloodshed.
The armed opposition has disavowed al-Qaeda and blames the regime for acts of mass murder.
Both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon previously pointed to the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria.
In an interview with BBC News in March Clinton said, “We have a very dangerous set of actors in the region, al-Qaeda, Hamas, and those who are on our terrorist list, to be sure, supporting – claiming to support the opposition [in Syria].”
In May, the U.N. chief said he believed al-Qaeda was responsible for two suicide car bombs that killed at least 55 people in Syria.
“A few days ago there was a huge, serious, massive terrorist attack. I believe that there must be al-Qaeda behind it. This has created again very serious problems.”
Damascus has maintained all along that it is facing a “terrorist” conspiracy funded and directed from abroad, not least by resource-rich Gulf monarchies, which have called for arming the fighters aiming to oust Assad.
Syria earlier this month sent the United Nations the names of 26 foreign nationals it said had been apprehended after coming to fight in Syria. It described 20 of those as members of al-Qaeda who had entered the country from Turkey.