AMMAN, Jordan — A Jordanian militant leader linked to al Qaeda warned Sunday that his extremist group will launch “deadly attacks” in neighboring Syria to topple President Bashar Assad, as Damascus lashed out at France for backing Syrian rebels.
In a speech delivered to a crowd protesting outside the prime minister’s office in Amman, Mohammad al-Shalabi, better known as Abu Sayyaf, told Mr. Assad that “our fighters are coming to get you.”
Abu Sayyaf is the head of the Salafi Jihadi group, which produced several al Qaeda linked militants who fought U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past 10 years. They also are blamed for the 2002 assassination of U.S. aid worker Laurence Foley outside his Amman home.
The militant leader was himself convicted in 2004 of plotting attacks on Jordanian air bases hosting U.S. trainers, but served his term and was released last year.
Militants linked to al Qaeda, many from Iraq but also reportedly several from Jordan, are thought to have made inroads among Syrian rebels as the civil war there intensifies.
The warning came hours after Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi criticized France, saying its growing support for the opposition does nothing but undermine the mission of the new U.N. envoy tasked with brokering a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
France, Syria’s former colonial ruler, has been one of the most outspoken Western critics of the Assad regime, and announced earlier this month that it has begun sending direct aid and money to five rebel-held Syrian cities as part of its intensified efforts to weaken Mr. Assad.
It was the first such move by a Western power amid mounting calls for the international community to do more to prevent bloodshed.
“On the one hand, it supports [envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi’s mission, while at the same time it makes statements demonstrating that it supports the militarization of the crisis in Syria,” Mr. Makdessi told the Associated Press.
French officials have acknowledged providing communications and other nonlethal equipment to Syrian rebel forces, but said they won’t provide weapons without international agreement. France played a leading role in the international campaign against Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the seemingly intractable conflict have failed so far.
A peace plan by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan never got off the ground, and Mr. Annan quit his post as special U.N. envoy. He was replaced on Sept. 1 by Mr. Brahimi, a 78-year-old former Algerian foreign minister.
Mr. Makdessi said Sunday that Syria is “fully committed to cooperating with Brahimi,” adding that “the only way to make Brahimi’s mission a success is the cooperation of all parties to enable him to bring about calmness and then the political process.”
The Assad regime made similar public statements of cooperation when it signed on to Mr. Annan’s peace plan, only to frequently ignore or outright violate its commitments by refusing to pull its troops out of cities and cease its shelling of opposition areas.