al-Qaeda and Syria's Uprising
"The Assad regime insists that the opposition protests that have rocked the country since March are being driven by 'armed terrorist groups' and 'Islamic militants.' It has blamed Al Qaeda for three suicide bomb attacks over the past month against security offices in Damascus, which left 70 people dead.
"Analysts say there is little proof – at least for now – that suggests that Al Qaeda, or its militant affiliates, are seeking to play an active role in the Syrian uprising...
"(However,) as the violence has steadily worsened, some commentators on jihadist websites are openly calling for waging a jihad against the Assad regime. In November, Osama al-Shehabi, the leader of Al Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, called for an armed struggle in Syria.
"'The regime’s brutal oppression of the Syrian people proves that it is time to change direction and use real weapons against the regime,' he wrote in an article that was published by the Shumoukh al-Islam online forum. 'The revolution is a jihad; it is a war; prepare for jihad for God; scrutinize your intentions and take up arms, for they are your obligation.'
"Last month the jihadist website Minbar al-Tawhid Wa al-Jihad posted a fatwa, or religious edict, by an influential Salafist cleric, in which he sanctioned the use of violence against the Assad regime.
"'Why do you insist on confining yourselves to peaceful protests?' wrote Sheikh Abu Mundhir al-Shinqiti. 'Is it a disgrace to kill those who kill us?... It has come to a stage where nothing will avail except taking up arms.'"
The answer to the question probably depends on the meaning of "al-Qaeda." The intelligence coup from the Bin Laden raid revealed that al-Qaeda central did have a larger coordinating role over al-Qaeda branded groups than most scholars had previously suspected. However, all these local groups still had their own levels of affiliation, as well as favored local causes. The Libyan Islamic Fighters Group was always primarily interested in their struggle against Qadhafi, and now that he's gone, there's been no evidence of their attacking other topics. It sounds like Lebanon's Fatah al-Islam has an interest in the Syrian cause, as well. Even then, however, if Syria did rank high on the agenda of the al-Qaeda movement as a whole, I'd expect to see more happening in Aleppo, which as I recall had an underground jihadist community which supported foreign fighters en route to Iraq.
(Crossposted to American Footprints)