Al-Qaida likely will benefit from the escalating civil war in Syria, according to Ed Husain, a former activist with Muslim Brotherhood front organizations and Hizb ut-Tahrir in Great Britain. Currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Husain writes that in their enthusiasm over the possible end of the Assad dictatorship, Westerners are neglecting the growing threat from al-Qaida operations in Syria.
He suggests that the terror group is poised to benefit from the violence in Syria regardless of whether President Bashar Assad stays in office. If Assad and his cohorts remain in power, radical Islamists will continue to "support the jihad of the Sunni Muslims against an Alawite infidel, as they see it. Assad offers them a rallying point," Husain writes, adding that al Qaida franchises in Syria will likely forge alliances with Sunni religious leaders and local tribes.
If Assad is overthrown, al-Qaida would gain de facto control of sections of Syria to use as a strategic base for jihadists in the region.
He believes the violent Islamists benefit from the indulgence of Syrian revolutionaries fighting to topple Assad. Syrian opposition troops regard the al-Qaida fighters entering the country as "welcome Arab and Muslim volunteers, mujahideen, religious brethren," Husain writes. "Not since the days of the Afghan jihad against the Soviets has global jihadism found this rare combination of native Sunni hospitality, a powerful cause, available cash, eager Arab support, Western acquiescence and the constant arrival of young Muslims to fight under its banner to create an Islamist government."
At least 21 people were killed Friday when a Syrian fighter jet bombed an apartment building in the eastern city of Mayadin, and at least 15 more were reported dead in Daraya, a Damascus suburb. Human-rights groups say more than 20,000 have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011.
As the violence continues in Syria, there are growing indications that the war between Assad loyalists and jihadists is spreading to neighboring Lebanon. Supporters and foes of Assad clashed Friday in Tripoli, Lebanon's second-largest city. At least three people, one of them a Salafist sheikh, died in the fighting and 21 were wounded.
Early Friday, gunmen in downtown Tripoli attacked a security kiosk where Lebanese Army security cameras were located, witnesses said. Within hours, masked gunmen were seen burning shops around Tripoli, while smoke blanketed the city and residents hid in their homes. Prime Minister Nijab Mikati said Friday that the Lebanese Army had been given a "green light" to restore order after four days of clashes in the city in which 16 Lebanese were killed (11 of them soldiers) and 120 wounded.