JERUSALEM – The death and injury of “dozens” of Russian officers in a car bomb explosion this week at a Russian military base in Syria was claimed Wednesday by two jihadi factions.
There was no immediate confirmation or refutation of the claim, which was based on a report on the website of the jihadi group Ahrar al-Sham. The claim was accompanied by a 10-second video showing a parking lot filled with identical looking vehicles and then a large explosion
The attack allegedly occurred at a base 10 miles from Latakia on the Syrian coast, the principal operational center of the Russian expeditionary force which has been operating in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad for the past five months. The Russian air force has been targeting rebel forces.
The report was issued by the media office of Ahrar al-Sham, which said that the Bayan movement was involved in the operation as well as “local jihadists who were located at the Russian military base”. According to the Mideast Monitor, which translated the group’s press release, it said “Following weeks of surveillance, the movement has managed, in cooperation with the Bayan movement, to bomb a car [apparently meaning “to detonate a car bomb”] after observing a gathering of senior Russian generals at the military base.” The release claimed that “dozens of generals” were killed or wounded in the blast.
Although it is not plausible that Russia has dozens of generals in Syria, it is possible that there was a visit by high-ranking officers from Russia for a briefing on the Syrian operation.
The attack was allegedly carried out on Sunday but the announcement was delayed until Wednesday, the report said, to permit the operatives who carried it out to escape from the immediate vicinity and get back to their own territory.
Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Movement of the Free Men of Syria) is one of the largest rebel groups in Syria. It has operated alongside Jabhut al-Nusra, which is al-Qaeda’s arm in Syria. Last year, Ahrar representatives publicly disavowed connections to extreme “Salafi-jihadism”, raising the possibility that it might be adopting a more moderate, revisionist school of jihadism. Former American ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, urged the American government to open talks with the group.
The Moscow Times picked up on the story Thursday as reported in the Jerusalem Post but carried no reaction from Russian officials. Neither has there been any reaction from Syrian officials.