DAMASCUS, (Reuters) – Syria said on Thursday that an Islamist militant group active in neighbouring Lebanon was behind a suicide car bomb attack that killed 17 people in Damascus in September.
State television showed what it said were 12 members of Fatah al-Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired group that first emerged in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, confessing that they had helped plan the Sept. 27 attack on an intelligence complex in the Syrian capital.
Abdel Baqi Hussein, a Syrian who identified himself as the security coordinator of Fatah al-Islam, said the explosives had been smuggled from Lebanon and the suicide bomber was a Saudi national called Abu Aisha. “The objective was to rattle the Syrian regime,” Hussein said. He said he had discussed logistics with several Fatah al-Islam members in Lebanon, and that the car used in the bombing was a stolen Iraqi-registered taxi that had operated on the Damascus-Baghdad route.
Syria’s ties with Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been tense in recent years. Several Iraqi officials accuse Damascus of turning a blind eye to Islamist fighters crossing into Iraq.
Saudi Arabia is unhappy with Syria’s support for the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah and the suspected role of Syrian officials in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese statesman Rafik al-Hariri. Damascus denies involvement.
Syrian officials have warned of what they termed a terrorist threat from Lebanon, and linked the Sept. 27 bombing to attacks on the Lebanese army that killed 22 people in August and September.
The 12 people shown on state television were mostly Syrians and Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon or Syria. There was one Yemeni national and a woman described as the daughter of Fatah al-Islam’s leader Shaker al-Absi, who is at large.
Syria says Fatah al-Islam has spread to take in members and sympathisers across the Arab world.
Lebanese public prosecutor Said Mirza last month accused 34 men including Syrians, Saudis, Lebanese and Palestinians of belonging to the Fatah al-Islam cell behind the attacks on the army.
Mirza said the men, eight of whom were at large, sympathised with Fatah al-Islam, which fought the Lebanese army for 15 weeks at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon last year.
At least 430 people were killed in the fighting, including 170 soldiers and 220 militants. Several Lebanese politicians at the time accused Syria of backing Fatah al-Islam.