A Look at the Terror Group Jund Al-Sham

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 12, 2006; 1:56 PM

-- The group Jund al-Sham, Arabic for Soldiers of Syria, has claimed responsibility or been blamed for a number of bombings and gunbattles, mainly in Lebanon and Syria. Syrian officials have portrayed it as the most active militant group in the country.

But its origins and makeup remain murky.

It appears to be targeting the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad because of its secular, nationalist ideology and a crackdown led by Assad's father, Hafez Assad, that killed thousands of Muslim fundamentalists in the 1980s. The militants also reject rule by the Assad family because it belongs to the Shiite Alawite branch of Islam.

Damascus _ which is accused by the United States of supporting terrorism for its backing of the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and Palestinian militants _ argues that Jund al-Sham demonstrates that it, too, is targeted by terrorism. Bashar Assad claimed in June that al-Qaida-linked militants were taking refuge in Lebanon.

The Sunni Muslim Jund al-Sham is believed to have first emerged in Afghanistan in 1999, established by Syrians, Palestinians and Jordanians with links to the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who later became leader of al-Qaida in Iraq and was killed this year in a U.S. airstrike.

The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 appears to have disrupted Jund al-Sham's operations there.

Its first claim of an attack came in a July 2004 a car bombing in Beirut that killed an official from Syria's ally, Hezbollah. Since then, security forces have battled militants from the group several times in Syria _ including once near the Defense Ministry in the heart of Damascus.

Several groups using the name have since emerged, including a Palestinian militant group based in the Lebanese refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, though it is not clear whether they are linked.

© 2006 The Associated Press