BAGHDAD (AP) — Al-Qaida's chief has called on Muslims from other countries to support rebels in Syria seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad, saying they cannot depend on the West for help.
Ayman al-Zawahri, in a videotaped statement released late Saturday, asked Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to join the uprising against Assad's "pernicious, cancerous regime." All four states border Syria.
A senior Iraqi security official also told the Associated Press on Saturday that intelligence over the last four months has revealed a flow of al-Qaida-linked fighters from the northern Iraqi city of Mosul into Syria.
The comments by both the Iraqi official and al-Zawahri came a day after two suicide car bombers struck security compounds in Aleppo, a Syrian city that had been relatively peaceful throughout the country's 11-month-uprising. Though there was no claim of responsibility, suicide bombings are a hallmark of al-Qaida.
"There is no treatment for (the Assad regime) other than removal," al-Zawahri says in the eight-minute video posted on jihadist websites, according to U.S.-based SITE Intel Group, which monitors militant messages.
"Don't depend on the West and Turkey, which had deals, mutual understanding and sharing with this regime for decades and only began to abandon it after they saw it faltering," he said. "Instead, depend on Allah alone and then on your sacrifices, resistance, and steadfastness."
He urged Syrians to oppose help from the Arab League and "its corrupt agent governments." The League has put forth a plan to try to end violence in Syria but it suspended an observers mission to the country after the regime flouted its agreement to the terms of the plan.
Hours later, a Sunni sheik in Iraq's northern Kurdish region said a group of clerics in the area is calling for a Muslim jihad, or holy war, against Assad's regime.
"Jihad is the duty of every Muslim against the Assad regime," said Sheik Abdul-Rahman Abdul-Karim Barzanji, describing the edict issued by the Union of the Scholars of Islam in Kurdistan. "Any support from any Muslim or country is forbidden."
"Jihad" is literally translated as "holy war" but Islam dictates also interpret it as supporting fighters with money or other support — and not necessary fighting.
Egyptian-born al-Zawahri took over al-Qaida after Osama bin Laden was killed last May by a U.S. special forces raid on his hideout in Pakistan.
The Iraqi official said at least two Syrian suicide bombers who trained in Mosul have crossed the border to join the fight in Syria.
Fighters armed with guns and explosives also have headed from Iraq to Syria, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss intelligence.
A U.S. official in Washington, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said it would not be surprising if Iraqi al-Qaida fighters are aiding Syrian rebels, but would not discuss or confirm specific intelligence. However, the official noted that al-Qaida in Iraq long has had an operational network in Syria.
Al-Zawahri in the past clashed with al-Qaida in Iraq. Both he and bin Laden urged followers to focus attacks against U.S. and Israeli interests, and sharply condemned the network's Iraqi wing for targeting Shiite Muslims during the years that Iraq teetered on the brink of civil war.
Al-Qaida fighters in Iraq generally have confined attacks to their home country.
Associated Press writers Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Yahya Barzjani in Sulymaniyah, Iraq, and Kimberly Dozier in Washington contributed to this report.