SYRIA- An alQaeda-inspired group claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks across Syria, the latest evidence that extremists are exploiting the chaos to make inroads in another Middle Eastern country.
On Tuesday, the SITE monitoring group, which tracks jihadist chatter on the Internet, said the Al-Nusra Front released statements on extremist websites in late June claiming the attacks were to avenge the killings of Syrians by the government.
One of the attacks targeted a pro-government television station in the town of Drousha, south of the capital, Damascus, on June 27. Seven people were killed in the attack on Al-Ikhbariya TV.
Al-Nusra said the station is an arm of the government and the attack sought to make the station "taste from the cup of torture" and force every member of the government to wonder: "When will my turn come?" The statement included photos of 11 men it said were kidnapped in the attack.
Al-Ikhbariya is privately owned but often acts as a government mouthpiece.
Although no direct evidence of Al-Qaeda involvement has emerged, some Western officials and Middle East analysts say they have detected the group's hand in recent attacks.
They point to the scale and tactics of recent suicide car bombings in Damascus and to calls by Al Qaeda leaders for Muslim holy warriors to join the fight against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian government has long blamed terrorists for the 16-month-old revolt, and the presence of al Qaeda groups creates new difficulties for Arab and Western countries trying to help force President Bashar al-Assad from power.
The opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army deny having any links to terrorism, and say they do not have the desire or the capabilities to carry out massive suicide bombings and other al Qaeda-style attacks.
Little is known about Al-Nusra, though Western intelligence officials say it could be a front for a branch of al Qaeda militants from Iraq operating in Syria. The group has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks in Syria, including suicide bombings, in the past.
Although the Syrian opposition disavows links to terror, the presence of al Qaeda among the forces fighting to oust President al-Assad is a serious complicating factor for the international powers that say they want to help the opposition without empowering extremists along the way.