November 6, 2008 / 9:59 PM / 11 years ago

Syria says Fatah al-Islam group behind bombing

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Syria said on Thursday that an Islamist militant group active in neighboring Lebanon was behind a suicide car bomb attack that killed 17 people in Damascus in September.

State television showed what it said were 12 members of Fatah al-Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired group that first emerged in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, confessing that they had helped plan the September 27 attack on an intelligence complex in the Syrian capital.

Abdel Baqi Hussein, a Syrian who identified himself as the security coordinator of Fatah al-Islam, said the explosives had been smuggled from Lebanon and that the suicide bomber was a Saudi national called Abu Aisha.

He said he had discuss logistics with several Fatah al-Islam members in Lebanon beforehand, and that the car used in the bombing was an Iraqi-registered taxi that had operated on the Damascus-Baghdad route.

“The objective was to rattle the Syrian regime,” Hussein said.

Syrian officials have warned of what they termed a terrorist threat from Lebanon, and linked the September 27 bombing to attacks on the Lebanese army that killed 22 people in August and September.

The 12 people shown on state television were mostly Syrians and Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon or Syria. There was one Yemeni national and a woman described as the daughter of Fatah al-Islam’s leader Shaker al-Absi, who is at large.

Syria says Fatah al-Islam has spread to take in members and sympathizers across the Arab world.

Lebanese public prosecutor Said Mirza last month accused 34 men including Syrians, Saudis, Lebanese and Palestinians of belonging to the Fatah al-Islam cell that was behind the attacks on the army.

Mirza said the men, eight of whom were at large, sympathized with Fatah al-Islam, which fought the Lebanese army for 15 weeks at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon last year.

At least 430 people were killed in the fighting, including 170 soldiers and 220 militants. Several Lebanese politicians at the time accused Syria of backing Fatah al-Islam.

Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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