February 15, 2012
Al Qaeda's leader has called for the ouster of Syria's "pernicious, cancerous regime," raising fears that Islamic extremists will try to hijack the increasingly bloody uprising against Syrian president Bashar Assad that began 11 months ago with calls for democratic change, CNSNews.com reports. In an eight-minute video message released Feb. 11, al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to support Syrian rebels. Hours later, an Iraqi Muslim sheikh spoke out in agreement, saying, "Jihad is the duty of every Muslim against the Assad regime." The United Nations estimates that more than 5,400 people have been killed in Syria, making it one of the deadliest conflicts of the Arab Spring. The uprising has become markedly more violent in recent months, including a string of suicide attacks on security targets that have killed dozens since December and which the Assad regime has blamed on al Qaeda.