This Week
February 16, 2012

As Syria spirals toward a full-blown civil war that could engulf the Middle East, al Qaeda is making a push to claim a role in the 11-month uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In a new video, Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of the terrorist network, is calling on Muslims to support Syrian rebels in their quest to topple Assad’s “pernicious, cancerous regime.” The Syrian government has repeatedly claimed that its military strikes on civilian areas were aimed at terrorists, and specifically blamed al Qaeda for two suicide bombings that killed at least 28 people in the northern city of Aleppo last week. Could al Qaeda succeed in exploiting Syria’s turmoil to increase its influence in the region?

Yes. Al Qaeda is making headway in Syria: The Syrian opposition hasn’t shown much affinity for jihad, say Tim Lister and Paul Cruickshank at CNN, but the worsening violence might give Zawahiri a golden opportunity to “graft al Qaeda” onto the uprising. “Security vacuums and growing radicalism brought on by economic collapse” have helped Islamists “gain a foothold — and in some instances, safe havens — across the Arab world,” including in Zawahiri’s native Egypt. Look for al Qaeda to try and repeat that pattern as Syria is ravaged by internal strife.
“Can al Qaeda tap into Syria rage?”

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