WASHINGTON – Al-Qaida operatives in Iraq, also known as members of Jabhat al-Nusra, have threatened to attack Istanbul and Ankara in Turkey, a U.S. military source tells WND.
The source, who monitors Syrian sites, said that the threat came after al-Nusra took over the border town of Azaz, Turkey, and closed several border crossings, including ones at Bab al-Hawah and Bab al-Salameh.
Sources say that the al-Nusra takeover of Azaz and the border crossings from Syria into Turkey reflect the rising strength of these Islamist militant fighters in northern and eastern Syria and their apparently deteriorating relations with other Syrian opposition and Islamist fighters.
Because of these takeovers, the source said, al-Nusra has threatened suicide bombings in Istanbul and Ankara.
“We think it’s credible,” the source said. “That’s ‘our guys’ we’re supporting, too,” he said.
The military source was making an apparent reference to U.S. and Western backing of the Syrian opposition which increasingly has been infiltrated by Islamist militant foreign fighters, mainly AQI.
The threat to Turkey comes as AQI, or al-Nusra, is planning to set up a base in Syria to be used to spread its terrorist activities throughout the region, according to informed sources.
The Sunni sect Al-Nusra already has begun to launch attacks inside Lebanon in Shiite Hezbollah-controlled strongholds, due to its support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is Alawite, an offshoot of Shiism.
Hezbollah is backed by Shiite Iran and is regarded as a terrorist group by the United States, Israel and members of the European Union.
The spread of al-Nusra follows al-Qaida leader Ayan al-Zawahiri, who set his sights not only on Syria but also Lebanon.
WND last year revealed that al-Zawahiri in a letter said that he was creating al-Qaida cells in Lebanon and Syria which would be under the command of a Saudi, Majed alMajed, said to be the emir of al-Qaida’s Abdullahy Azzam Brigades.
Dr. Reuven Erlich, who heads the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amity Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, said that al-Nusra’s presence in Syria represents a potential threat not only to Israel but also Europe – a threat, he said, that is more central than al-Qaida in Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Erlich said that al-Nusra’s intention of attacking Israel would be through the Golan Heights after establishing an operative terrorist infrastructure there.
Al Nusra now calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, which seeks to unite all Muslims in a single caliphate.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia, which is concerned about al-Qaida’s rise in Syria, has pushed other Islamist militant groups to form the Army of Islam under the command of a Saudi, Zahran Alloush.
Alloush is founder of the Liwa al-Islam, or Brigade of Islam, which will combine with other Islamist militant groups to form the new Army of Islam.
The new group pulls together some 50 separate Salafist Jihadi groups which have been receiving financing and weapons from the Saudi kingdom.
Riyadh has been concerned about an increasing number of Islamist militant fighters going into Syria but linking up with al-Qaida’s al-Nusra. The Saudis know they have little control over them so instead have decided to form the Army of Islam in an effort to assert some influence.
The Army of Islam is concentrated in the Damascus area.
Along with ISIL taking over the Syrian opposition, the rise of these various Salafi groups who now are uniting under the Army of Islam reflects a splintered opposition to the al-Assad government, a development al-Assad undoubtedly will use to his advantage.
The Salafists are close to the Wahhabi Muslims, which are closely associated with the Saudi royal family.
Ironically, the Saudi-created Army of Islam also wants Islamic rule in Syria and doesn’t support the Western-backed opposition in exile, the Syrian National Coalition, to which the Saudis also have given financial and logistical backing.
Because the followers of al-Nusra and the Army of Islam have similar goals of uniting all Muslims under Islamic rule not only in Syria but the Levant region, there remains the concern of just how cohesive the new group will be under Saudi control.
Despite Saudi efforts to create another militant entity inside Syria, al-Nusra and its new entity the ISIL intend to use Syria as a hub from which to export terrorism and its brand of Islam to neighboring countries and then to the West, according to informed sources.
In effect, they want to re-create a Greater Syria which historically included modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait and bring all of this territory in the Levant under an Islamic caliphate.
Erlich’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center noted, however, in a report the possibilities of al-Nusra’s new ISIL spreading outwards from Syria into the region and on to Europe may be problematic.
Syria is looked upon as too sectarian, with diverse ethnic and religious populations that also want secular Arab nationalism.
Al-Qaida has an estimated 10,000 fighters in Syria, including Syrians and foreign fighters from Arab and North African countries, the North Caucasus from southern Russia and from such European countries as Great Britain and France. Other sources tell WND that at least some 20 Americans are included among their ranks.