Syrian army thwarts copycat bomb attack


AN EXPLOSIVES-LADEN minibus was intercepted and the driver killed by security forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo yesterday, Syrian state media reported.

The attempt was said to have been modelled on twin suicide bombings that killed 55 and wounded 300 in Damascus on Thursday.

Anti-government protests took place after Muslim prayers in several cities and towns across Syria.

According to opposition activists, security officers compelled demonstrators to disperse and carried out arrests. Five demonstrators were reported wounded by army fire in Damascus, while activists said many people were injured when troops shot at protesters in Aleppo, Syria’s second city.

Undeterred by the latest violence, UN monitors overseeing the fragile ceasefire imposed by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan visited the Khaldiyeh district of Homs and Qusair city, both rebel strongholds, as well as restive districts of Damascus.

Mission spokesman Neeraj Singh said the 113 monitors deployed in Syria lacked essential communications equipment and transport.

Damascus urged the UN Security Council to take action against terrorists and their sponsors responsible for Thursday’s bombings, which were condemned by the US, Russia, Egypt, China, Iraq, Canada and France.

The government couched its demands in letters to the council and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon. Damascus said “escalating crimes” proved its contention that it had been confronting “terrorist” attacks financed by foreign governments since the outset of the 14-month rebellion.

Syrian UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari called on the council to press Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to “stop their support and instigation of violence, stop . . . funding . . . armed groups which attack civilians and soldiers”. He told the council that a dozen “foreign terrorists,” in- cluding men holding French, British and Belgian passports, had been killed in Syria. He said he had a list of 26 names of “terrorists” operating in Syria, some of whom had links to al-Qaeda. The govern- ment previously announced that Libyans, Lebanese and Iraqis had been slain in clashes with troops.

During a visit to Japan, Paris-based Burhan Ghalioun, head of the expatriate opposition Syrian National Council, said the peace process was in “crisis” because there was no “threat” to use force against the government. He argued that the government had co-opted al-Qaeda elements to stage bombings in a campaign to sabotage the plan launched by Mr Annan.

“The relationship between the Syrian regime and al-Qaeda is very strong,” he stated, observing that the government had aided the infiltration of al-Qaeda fighters into Iraq during the US occupation and assisted al-Qaeda-allied militants in Lebanon.

While US defence secretary Leon Panetta admitted to “an al-Qaeda presence in Syria”, he could not gauge the extent of its activities.

Commenting on the bombing, US analyst Joshua Landis said the rise of armed groups and the gradual erosion of security had provided an opportunity for al-Qaeda and foreign militants to join the struggle against the government.

According to a foreign diplomat based in Damascus, the government is keen to implement the Annan plan and to secure a comprehensive ceasefire with armed rebel factions so that interlocu- tors from the regime and the opposition can proceed to dialogue, the sixth and final stage of the Annan plan.

While domestic opposition groups have accepted dialogue, the diaspora Syrian National Council has rejected negotiations with the government and is calling for militarisation of the struggle and external military intervention, both rejected by domestic political opposition groups.