, DAMASCUS, Mar 23 – An Islamic group has claimed responsibility for several recent attacks against security and army compounds in Syrian cities, including the suicide bombings over the weekend that claimed the lives of at least 29 people, and warned of more attacks despite international criticism.
The al-Qaida-inspired Islamist group, known as al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, said Wednesday on one of its online forums that it carried out the attacks to avenge the Syrian government’s “massacre of Sunnis,” who make up the backbone of the opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We tell the regime to end its massacres against the Sunnis, or else, you will bear the sin of the Alawites,” al-Nusra said in a statement, threatening that “What is coming is more bitter and painful, with God’s will.”
The statement warned citizens to stay away from security and army bases.
The authenticity of the online statement could not be verified.
Some radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaida consist of extremist Sunni Muslims. The ruling elites in Syria belong to the minority Alawite sect, which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
In February, U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper said that earlier attacks in Syria “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaida-like attack,” adding that “we believe al-Qaida in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria.”
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has recently announced his support for al-Nusra Front.
In the latest attacks, three suicide bombings hit Damascus Saturday, killing 29 people, and an explosion went off Sunday near a government security building in the northern city of Aleppo, killing two people.
Russia on Thursday expressed serious concerns over human rights violations by the opposition in Syria, following the publication of a Human Rights Watch report.
“There is an extensive factual material about serious humanitarian crimes committed by the armed opposition, including abductions, torture, arbitrary detentions and assassinations of civilians,” a Russian Foreign Ministry official told the Interfax news agency.
Konstantin Dolgov, the ministry’s representative for human rights, democracy and law, mentioned 25 videos uploaded from the Internet containing footage of tortures and killings.
“The opposition forced their victims to plea they have allegedly killed civilians and the regime’s opponents,” Dolgov said, warning there were al-Qaida fighters among the opposition forces.
On Tuesday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had received reports of abuses by armed Syria opposition groups on security force members and civilians.
Armed opposition elements have carried out serious human rights abuses, HRW said in a public letter to the broad-based Syrian National Council (SNC) and other leading Syrian opposition groups.
“The abuses include kidnapping, detention and torture of security force members, government supporters, and people identified as members of pro-government militia called shabeeha,” the HRW said, adding that it has also received reports of ” executions by armed opposition groups of security force members and civilians.”
It said that “leaders of Syrian opposition groups should condemn and forbid their members from carrying out abuses,” stressing that “The Syrian government’s brutal tactics cannot justify abuses by armed opposition groups.”
“Opposition leaders should make it clear to their followers that they must not torture, kidnap or execute under any circumstances,” it said.
The Syrian government has accused some Arab and Western countries of providing weapons and financial support to the armed groups in Syria. It said in December 2011 that “armed terrorist groups” had killed more than 2,000 army and security personnel during the unrest.
The United Nations said recently that more than 8,000 people died in Syria’s violence and 230,000 Syrians have fled their homes since the beginning of unrest one year ago.