ERBIL, Kurdistan region – Observers and experts say there is little doubt that Sunday's attack on the headquarters of the Kurdish Asayish intelligence services in the Kurdistan capital of Erbil was the work of al-Qaeda.
But they do not believe it was the same al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions that were behind another deadly assault on the Asayish building in 2007. The Kurdish Battalions have reportedly been incorporated into the larger Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS).
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a research fellow at the Middle East Forum, also does not believe that the Kurdish Islamist Ansar al-Islam, created in 2003, played a role.
"Personally I am not convinced it is Ansar al-Islam. That group has changed a lot since pre-2003. They are operating in the Mosul countryside and parts of Anbar but haven't expressed an interest in attacking the Kurdish government," he said.
A well-resourced Jihadi Twitter account, @said_alshami, who is allegedly a fighter in Syria, tweeted that, "Ansar al-Islam is distant and doesn't have operations in Kurdistan, but ISIS had battalions nurtured in Kurdistan and had two issuances from them."*
Another Twitter account holder (@sh3lan2008) who describes himself as a "soldier in the Islamic State: Iraq" said that the attack was planned by the ISIS and carried out within two hours.
When asked if the attack was a response to Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani's threat to support Syrian Kurds against al Qaida, @sh3lan2008 said: "Yes, our brothers in ash-Sham (Syria) have suffered from the support of the mercenaries in Erbil."*
Last August Barzani vowed to defend Syrian Kurds if reports were confirmed that Kurdish civilians were being attacked by "terrorist groups and groups affiliated by Al Qaida."
Al-Qaida leaders have in the past been critical of secular Kurdish nationalist groups, such as those ruling the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq.
The Supreme Kurdish Council, a council that unites most Kurdish political parties in Syria, condemned the attack and called on all Kurds to resist, calling on all "sons of Kurdistan to come together and unite in the face of attacks."
Ceng Sagnic, senior intelligence analyst based in Israel, said he believes that Ansar al-Islam operatives cannot carry out such big attacks without the support of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The ISIS has not officially claimed responsibility for the Erbil attack.
* (Aymenn's comment: these tweets were written as part of interviews I conducted with these individuals).