The Rogue Terrorist Group Tearing Syria Apart

A new twist in the conflict in Syria is emerging with the rise of the Al-Nusra Front, a shadowy al Qaeda-style militant group reeking havoc in the country.

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A new twist in the conflict in Syria is emerging with the rise of the Al-Nusra Front, a shadowy al Qaeda-style militant group wreaking havoc in the country. On Thursday, a horrific suicide bombing ripped the face off Syria's intelligence building, killing at least 55 people, injuring hundreds and eliciting condemnation from the U.N. It wasn't clear who was responsible for the attack, with Syria's main opposition groups blaming President Bashar al-Assad's regime and Assad blaming the opposition. But now analysts suspect the attack was carried out by the Al-Nusra Front, a group that has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past.  According to the U.N. Security Council, which condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," a peaceful solution will never arrise as long as "the terrorist attacks" continue. Here's what we know about the group.

Origins Experts disagree about the makeup of the group but it is thought to have arisen out of Homs last year during the general uprising in Syria with the stated goal to "to avenge the people of Homs," according to Al ArabiyaSince the fighting began, the Assad regime has dubbed the opposition as "foreign-backed terrorists" and while most analysts disagree with that claim, it could be true for the Al-Nusra Front. On Friday, Western intelligence officials told the Associated Press that the group "could be a front for al-Qaida’s Iraq branch."

Activities Thus far, the group has claimed responsibility for bombings in Aleppo, al-Midan and Damascus, which included the use of suicide bombers. Last month, a suicide strike hit Damascus, killing a number of people, Reuters reported. "The group named the bomber as Abu Omar al-Shami and said he detonated his explosives amidst 150 members of the Syrian security forces who were gathered outside the Zain al-Abideen mosque in the Midan district of Damascus," read the report. "In a statement posted on the Islamist web forum al-Shamukh it said Friday's bombing targeted the 'aggressors who surround the houses of God' to attack worshippers after weekly prayers."

Aspirations. While the jihadist group is fighting for the overthrow of Assad's regime, it's not necessarily aligned with the opposition groups, the New America Foundation's Brian Fishman tells NPR. "They don't have the same plan for what happens after that overthrow and they certainly don't have the same ideology." This is where the group's goals really diverge. "From their world view, democracy is a religion because it asserts the sovereignty of human beings over the sovereignty of God," Fishman said. "So when they see protesters in Syria calling for democracy, they believe that this is a call for the imposition of a religious system that is antithetical to the system they would like to install."

How it's killing peace. d According to NPR's Kelly McEvers, the existence of the Al-Nusra Front helps Assad's argument that he's fighting to prevent a jihadist takeover. "The irony in all this is that the presence of these jihadi groups might actually strengthen the regime in the short term, by scaring Christians and other minorities in Syria into believing the regime is their sole protector," she says. "It could also scare off the international community, which fears any intervention might only attract more jihadists."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.