By Scott Stewart

Two car bombs struck security facilities in Aleppo, Syria. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack -- the Free Syrian Army has denied involvement -- but the al Assad regime has blamed the incident on terrorists. The first such large-scale attacks in the city, the blasts were potent and displayed a high level of sophistication on the part of the perpetrators.


On Feb. 10, two security facilities in Aleppo, Syria, were struck by car bombs in separate incidents. The Military Security Branch headquarters and al-Orkoub area's law enforcement headquarters were severely damaged by the attacks. In both locations, the blasts shattered windows, destroyed nearby vehicles and warped a cast iron fence on the perimeter of the buildings, leaving concrete blocks and bodies strewn around the area. According to the Syrian Health Ministry, the attacks killed at least 28 individuals, including civilians, and wounded 235 others.

State media have attributed the attack to terrorists, but so far no one has claimed responsibility. In fact, Free Syrian Army (FSA) leader Col. Riad al-Assad has denied his group's involvement in the attack. Responsibility notwithstanding, the tactics used indicate a high degree of sophistication directed at high-value and well-guarded, if symbolic, targets.

Photos from Syrian state media show one building -- it appears to be the Military Security Branch headquarters -- at least partially flattened and another with severe structural damage. These photos also show the probable blast seat, located 30-45 meters (about 100-150 feet) in front of one of the buildings. The leaning beams and bent reinforcement bar from the perimeter wall indicate that the blast seat was outside the wall. The physical security measures, including the perimeter, functioned as designed, but the explosion was large enough to reach the building past the exterior wall. Had the device been closer to the building, it would have caused even more damage.

That the perpetrators were able to place the explosive device so close to the buildings without the device detonating prematurely -- and without being detected -- indicates a degree of operational expertise. In addition, that the device was able to cause such structural damage to the building despite detonating outside the front wall of the compound indicates that the device was quite substantial.

Notably, the attacks mark the first time since the Syria unrest began in February 2011 that such an attack has occurred in Aleppo. Unlike other cities, Aleppo has not seen much violence or anti-regime protesting stemming from the Syrian uprising. As Syria's second-largest city and a financial hub and stronghold of the al Assad regime, Aleppo will be protected by the regime at all costs.

However, such attacks have occurred in Syria. A similar twin bombing took place in Damascus on Dec. 23. That attack targeted two branches of Syria's Office of the Security Directorate and killed 40 people. The government blamed the attack on al Qaeda, but the militant group never claimed responsibility for it. Then in early January, Syrian state media reported that a suicide bombing occurred at an intersection in the Damascus neighborhood of Midan, killing 26 security forces and civilians.

Though it is possible that each of these bombings was carried out by different groups or individuals, the tactics used in the Dec. 23 attack and the Feb. 10 attack, as well as the target set, are very similar. This suggests that the same group or a related group could have carried out the attacks. If the perpetrators in the recent string of bombings are linked, they are demonstrating that they have the capability to hit the regime in its traditional strongholds. But even if the attacks are not linked, the assailants have demonstrated that the regime is no longer safe from attacks and is vulnerable in traditionally safe cities.


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Syria: Two Car Bombs Hit Security Facilities is republished with permission of STRATFOR.

Syria: Two Car Bombs Hit Security Facilities | Global Viewpoint