Ansar al-Suna Takes over from al-Zarqawi

The Ansar al-Suna Army, and not as announced, fighters loyal to Mussab al-Zarqawi, carried out the deadly attack on the US Marine camp guarding Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad Saturday, April 2, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report.

Forty-four American troops and 12 Iraqi prisoners were injured in the assault. (See also HOT POINTS).

As Zarqawi’s group runs out of operational steam, our al Qaeda experts see Ansar al-Suna moving into center stage of the terrorist war in Iraq.

On the face of it, there is not much difference between the two terrorist groups, both of which are branches of al Qaeda. They are similar in structure, objectives, types of operations and manpower. This often leads intelligence and military officials in Iraq to mistake one for the other when attributing responsibility for attacks. But key differences do exist.

A. While reams of intelligence have been produced on al-Zarqawi and his aides, Ansar al-Suna is far more arcane. Very little is known about the identities of the group’s leaders and its regional commanders or its internal functioning. The organization has released statements and videotapes, but its fighters are concealed behind tiger-striped uniforms and black face masks. The names on the tapes are false. There is much speculation about their real identities but no concrete information.

B. Zarqawi focuses his attacks heavily on Iraq’s Shiites, as opposed to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his deputy who want to single out the Americans in the country. Zarqawi believes the war in Iraq will be won by targeting the Shiites, whom he calls non-Muslims. Ansar al-Suna, however, refrains from striking out at Shiite targets, saying to do so would weaken the overall war effort. Instead, it focuses its operations on Sunni centers in Iraq such as Baghdad, Mosul, Baqouba and the Diyala province, often leading security forces to misjudge them as the work of Zarqawi’s group.

Ansar al-Suna rarely claims responsibility for its operations – not even after the Abu Ghraib attack, one of the most ambitious carried out in the Iraq war. This leaves the field open for Zarqawi’s followers to claim them as their own.

C. Most of Ansar al-Suna’s fighters, like Zarqawi’s, are non-Iraqis. In a videotape issued by the group this week called “Succor for the Heart”, masked instructors are shown teaching bomb-making courses. They spoke Arabic with Yemeni, Moroccan, Syrian, Palestinian and Iraqi accents.

D. Like Zarqawi’s organization, Ansar al-Suna gets most of its weapons and money from Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, via Jordan. But unlike the Zarqawi group, Ansar al-Suna has no ties with Iran, Iranian secret agents in Iraq or the Ansar al-Islam army.

Intelligence officials find Ansar al-Suna to be the most secretive of the terrorist groups waging war against the US military and the central government in Iraq today.

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