x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Jordanian Al Qaeda militant chief warns of Syria attacks

Mohammad Al Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, tells Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, "our fighters are coming to get you".

AMMAN // A Jordanian militant leader linked to Al Qaeda warned yesterday that his extremist group would launch "deadly attacks" in neighboring Syria to topple the president, Bashar Al Assad, as Damascus lashed out at France for backing Syrian rebels.

In a speech delivered to a crowd protesting outside the prime minister's office in Amman, Mohammad Al Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, told Mr Al Assad "our fighters are coming to get you".

Abu Sayyaf is the head of the Salafi Jihadi group, which produced several Al Qaeda-linked militants who fought US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are also blamed for the 2002 assassination of US aid worker Laurence Foley outside his Amman home.

The militant leader was convicted in 2004 of plotting attacks on Jordanian air bases hosting US trainers, but he was released last year after serving his term.

Militants linked to Al Qaeda, many from Iraq but also several reportedly from Jordan, were believed to have made inroads among Syrian rebels as the civil war in the country intensifies.

The warning came hours after the Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdessi, criticized France, saying its growing support for the opposition undermined the mission of Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN envoy.

Mr Makdessi said France suffered from "schizophrenia" in its approach to the country's conflict.

"On the one hand it supports Brahimi's mission, while at the same time it makes statements demonstrating that it supports the militarization of the crisis in Syria," Mr Makdessi said

Mr Brahimi will visit Iran after a fact-finding trip to Syria and meetings in Egypt, an official in the Iranian foreign ministry said.

Lebanese army intelligence services yesterday arrested a group accused of detaining Syrian opposition figures in northern Lebanon and handing them over to Damascus, a security official said. He added that "at least one Syrian kidnapped by the network has been released in the Akkar region".

Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 54 people had been killed across the country by yesterday afternoon. Another 17 people died and more than 40 were wounded in an attack on an Aleppo stadium last night.