Friday, March 8, 2013

Al Nusrah Front seizes control of Syrian city of Raqqah

Maybe DEBKA called it too early for Assad a couple of weeks ago.

The story comes from The Long War Journal.

Al Nusrah Front seizes control of Syrian city of Raqqah

Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, teamed up with another Salafist jihadist group to take control of the city of Raqqah along the Euphrates River in eastern Syria. Meanwhile, the Al Nusrah Front executed two more suicide attacks yesterday near the city of Homs.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that closely monitors Syria's civil war, reported yesterday that the Al Nusrah Front and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade took full control of Raqqah after the groups "overran the military security branch," which was "the last regime stronghold" in the city.

"The takeover of the city was symbolically celebrated by the Al Nusrah fighters through one of its fighters calling to prayer from inside the military security branch," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on its Facebook page. A video of the call to prayer was posted on YouTube [see video above].

Raqqah is the first provincial capital in Syria to fall completely under control of the myriad of forces opposed to President Bashir al Assad's regime. It is unsurprising that Raqqah fell to Al Nusrah and its jihadist allies, as Al Nusrah is considered to be the most organized and effective fighting force in Syria. The terror group has an estimated 10,000 fighters and is present on nearly all of the fronts in the country.

The Al Nusrah Front and the Ahrar al Sham Brigade, which is comprised primarily of Syrian fighters who want to establish an Islamic state, have conducted several joint operations in the past. In mid-February, the two jihadist groups seized control of the al-Jarrah military airport and the nearby town of Thawra and its dam.

Over the past several months, the Al Nusrah Front and its allies have effectively seized control of the Euphrates River Valley and have secured lines of communication with Al Nusrah's parent group, al Qaeda in Iraq [see LWJ report, Al Nusrah front spearheads capture of Syrian dam, claims suicide assault].

Al Nusrah executes two more suicide attacks

In addition to taking over Raqqah yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front executed two separate suicide attacks at military checkpoints outside the city of Homs in the province of the same name.

A pair of suicide bombers "detonated 2 suicide truck bombs yesterday by regime checkpoints in al-Dar al-Kabira near the entrance to Homs city," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. The attacks were executed as part of an attempt "to try to break the hold on the city entrances so that rebel fighters can go in."

While the Al Nusrah Front has not yet claimed credit for the two suicide bombings, previous reports attributed to the terror group by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have been accurate. The Al Nusrah Front often claims credit for such attacks days or even weeks after they are executed.

The Al Nusrah Front has now claimed credit for 55 of the 67 suicide attacks that have taken place in Syria since December 2011, according to a tally by The Long War Journal (note that multiple suicide bombers deployed in a single operation are counted as part of a single attack). So far this year, 15 suicide attacks have been reported in Syria; Al Nusrah has claimed credit for 12 of them.

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