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Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq says it killed Syrian soldiers

March 11, 2013|By Emily Alpert

An Al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on Syrian soldiers who were returning to their country, according to a group that monitors extremist communications.

The Islamic State of Iraq said it was behind the assault one week ago in the restive western Iraqi province of Anbar, where 48 Syrian soldiers and nine Iraqi border guards reportedly were slain.

In a statement spread through extremist forums, the group said it tracked the Syrian government forces after they fled from clashes with rebels along the border, then ambushed them and their Iraqi guides, according to the SITE Monitoring Group. The militant group referred to the Iraqi forces as “the Safavid army,” after a Shiite dynasty that once ruled Iran.

Some Islamic extremists have championed the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose cause began as a protest movement two years ago and evolved steadily into an armed conflict. In the statement, the Al Qaeda-linked group called the opposition fighters its “brothers.”

The alliance has alienated many educated young Syrians who had believed in the uprising and raised fears that violent fundamentalists could ultimately take over the country. The U.S. has demurred from sending weapons to the Syrian opposition out of fear they could end up in extremist hands.

The same group has also bloodied Iraq with car bombs and assassinations, an apparent attempt by the Sunni extremists to capitalize on the tensions simmering in Iraq as Sunni protesters rally against the Shiite-led government.

Iraqi officials told the Associated Press that a string of attacks Monday killed 11 people, including an anti-Al Qaeda militiaman in Baghdad; no one immediately claimed responsibility, but the wave of killings resembled other assaults engineered by the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda.

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