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Al Qaeda in Syria?

Arabic newspapers discuss the risk of Al Qaeda regrouping in Syria after the release of Abu Musab Al Suri. Other topics: Gaza blackout and Al Qaeda-Iran plot.

Al Qaeda in Syria may regroup after the release of Abu Musab Al Suri, the 'mufti of murder'

Abu Musab Al Suri, one of Al Qaeda's foremost strategists, was recently released from an Aleppo prison but the story somehow did not make big news, wrote Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi writer, in Saturday's edition of the London-based newspaper Al Hayat.

Mr Al Suri was reportedly captured by the US army in Pakistan several years ago and, oddly, handed over to the Syrian authorities. Now he is out there, but nobody knows where exactly in a very unstable Syria, the writer said.

Soon after his release, two bomb attacks hit security buildings in the city of Aleppo, north-west of Syria. Sure enough, Al Qaeda's Iraq branch issued a statement endorsing "jihad in Syria," though not explicitly claiming responsibility for the attacks.

"The Al Qaeda statement was credible, unlike the awkwardly worded and flagrantly fabricated statements the [Syrian] regime sometimes comes up with," the writer said. "It also revealed in some detail the migration of Al Qaeda's followers from Iraq into Syria."

Reports from Iraq's Anbar province, which is close to the Syrian border, say there are concerted efforts to fundraise and stockpile medicines - and even weapons - to bring support to the Syrian people against the regime of President Bashar Al Assad, the writer said.

"You can see that the right conditions are there for Al Qaeda to recruit."

Indeed, the probability of Al Qaeda becoming a key factor in Syrian affairs is undeniable, and the release of Mr Al Suri makes that probability a solid one.

He is one of "Al Qaeda's theorists," the writer said. "And I dare say that he, Abu Qatada Al Filistini and Abu Mohammed Al Maqdisi are the ones who made Al Qaeda as we know it

"They did not join Osama bin Laden; he joined them," he went on.

"I know the man well. I interviewed him before He is radical beyond limits. He theorised terrorism in Algeria, and issued fatwas to kill and made violating people's privacy and possessions permissible.

"He used to record his gibberish in cassette tapes and weekly pamphlets that were distributed at the entrance of mosques around London and from there would find their way to Algeria. He was the mufti of murder and blood par excellence."

If Mr Abu Musab managed to stoke fitna (instability fuelled by religious or sectarian differences) in a country like Algeria, which has an overwhelming Sunni majority, it is anyone's guess what he could achieve in Syria, which boasts an intricate constellation of sects.

From the reckless way it is handling the uprising, the Syrian regime appears to be growing fond of the prospect of a fragmented country. "And who's better at helping achieve that than Al Qaeda?"

Gaza's sick hit hard as Israel pulls the plug

The Gaza Strip has been in the dark since last Tuesday, after Israel barred imports of diesel on which the territory's power stations depend to produce electricity, most crucially for hospitals, wrote columnist Amjad Arar in the UAE newspaper Al Khaleej.

"Gaza is on the verge of declaring a state of emergency in its hospitals," he said. "The screams coming from the various wards tell you that the diesel reserves will last no more than a couple more days."

One is left to wonder what "independent Gaza" some Palestinian politicians sometimes brag about. "Gaza's light and darkness and the lives of its patients in the intensive care units are in the hands of some Israeli official," he wrote.

Air, perhaps, is the only commodity that still escapes Israeli control in the 1.5 million-inmate prison that Israel has turned Gaza into. "Are the Palestinian people doomed to this perpetual suffering?"

If there is any consolation in realising that Palestinian patients with kidney problems have no access to dialysis machines, and that those dependent on respirators are not guaranteed a regular flow of oxygen, it is that Palestinian politicians both in Gaza and the West Bank can see the consequences of their politicking.

One hopes that the trauma of Gazan patients hastens the process of reconciliation between the rival Palestinian factions, the writer said.

Report of Al Qaeda-Iran plot is baseless

The story carried recently in Britain's Daily Mirror, about a scheme being concocted by Iran and Al Qaeda against Europe, may indeed have been leaked from western intelligence reports, but that doesn't mean the story is credible, wrote Mazen Hammad, a columnist with the Qatari newspaper Al Watan.

First, the ideological rift between Tehran and Al Qaeda is extensive, he argued. "Al Qaeda follows a deeply extremist Salafist line, whereas Iran leads the charge for Shiite Islam around the world. Saying that the two are plotting a terrorist attack in the manner of the September 11 attacks on the US is something of a superficial deduction."

Second, either side in this alleged alliance is capable of planning and executing large-scale operations alone, the columnist noted.

Moreover, Al Qaeda's interests and objectives are "totally different," he added. "The organisation will never agree with Iran on anything, be that peace or war."

So, in the context of rising tensions between Iran and the West, particularly Israel and the US, claims of machinations between Tehran and Al Qaeda should be construed as yet another episode in the larger media campaign to vilify Iran, and perhaps set the stage for a potential strike against it.

* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi


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