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Letters: Al-Qaida leader targeted U.N. staff in Syria

Correspondence planned kidnapping

This undated photo provided by Iraqi government intelligence officials on Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013 shows Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani. Iraqi intelligence officials that the shadowy leader of the powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria has sought to kidnap United Nations workers. The officials say they obtained the information about al-Golani, after capturing members of another al-Qaida group and that men gave them the first known photograph of al-Golani and letters written by the militant leader. (AP Photo/Iraqi Government)

This undated photo provided by Iraqi government intelligence officials on Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013 shows Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani. Iraqi intelligence officials that the shadowy leader of the powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria has sought to kidnap United Nations workers. The officials say they obtained the information about al-Golani, after capturing members of another al-Qaida group and that men gave them the first known photograph of al-Golani and letters written by the militant leader. (AP Photo/Iraqi Government)

The shadowy leader of a powerful al-Qaida group fighting in Syria sought to kidnap United Nations workers and scrawled out plans for his aides to take over in the event of his death, according to excerpts of letters obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.

Iraqi intelligence officials offered the AP the letters, as well as the first known photograph of the Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the head of one of the most powerful bands of radicals fighting the Syrian government in the country’s civil war.

The officials said they obtained the information about al-Golani after they captured members of another al-Qaida group in September.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to journalists.

“I was told by a soldier that he observed some of the workers of the U.N. and he will kidnap them. I ask God for his success,” read an excerpt of a letter given by officials from Iraq’s Falcon Intelligence Cell, an anti-terrorism unit that works under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The officials said other letters planned the kidnapping and killing of other foreigners, and Syrian and Iraqi civilians.

One U.N. worker was kidnapped for eight months in Syria and was released in October. Another two dozen U.N. peacekeepers were briefly held this year.

It’s not clear if those abductions had any relation to al-Golani’s letters.

Syria’s uprising began with peaceful protests, but it turned into an armed uprising after Assad’s forces cracked down on demonstrators.

Since then, hard-line Islamic brigades have emerged as the strongest rebel forces in Syria, chiefly among them the Nusra Front.

Under al-Golani’s leadership, it has dominated rebel-held parts of southern Syria, and it is a powerful fighting force in the Damascus countryside and northern Syria, with an estimated force of 6,000 to 7,000 fighters.

Al-Maliki’s Shiite-majority government is considered a quiet ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The officials may have released the letter excerpts to underscore the dominance of al-Qaida in Syria.

The intelligence officials did not say where they found the al-Qaida fighters who handed over the documents. They also would not say when the letters were written, though they said it represented a tiny sample of a large cache of documents.

The officials couldn’t explain why the letter excerpts were in a sloppily written, grammatically incorrect version of an Arabic dialect used across the Levant.

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