WASHINGTON – The fall of Fallujah in Iraq today marks a significant turning point in al-Qaida’s rise from the dead, as the terrorist network that delivered the worst foreign attack in America’s history demonstrates its new-found military muscle in Syria, Lebanon and an Iraqi city it previously controlled.
The city center of Iraq’s Fallujah is back in the hands of fighters linked to al-Qaida’s front group – the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant, Iraqi police said today.
ISIL is also one of the strongest rebel units in Syria, where it has imposed a strict version of Islamic law in territories it holds and kidnapped and killed anyone it deems critical of its rule. Also on Saturday, it claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood in Lebanon.
Hadi Razeij, head of the Anbar province police force, said police had left the city center entirely and had positioned themselves on the edge of town.
“The walls of the city are in the hands of the police force, but the people of Fallujah are the prisoners of ISIL,” he said, speaking on Arabic language satellite broadcaster al-Arabiya.
In a speech in Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said government forces would press on to clear the province of militants.
“There will be no retreat until we eliminate this gang and rid the people of Anbar of their evil acts,” he said. “The people of Anbar asked the government for help, they called us to come to rescue them from terrorists.”
Recently, al-Qaida units captured U.S. weapons and supplies provided to other rebel groups in Syria.
The U.S. State Department expressed its concern in a statement, saying it would continue to work with Iraqi authorities and tribes allied against ISIL “to defeat our common enemy.”
Fallujah became notorious among Americans when insurgents in 2004 killed four American security contractors and hung their burned bodies from a bridge. It, Ramadi and other cities remained battlegrounds for the following years, as sectarian bloodshed mounted, with Shiite militias killing Sunnis.