Top Syria cleric threatens attacks on U.S.

In this May 12, 2007 file photo, Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun stands with the head of the Greek Orthodox community, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Ignatius IV Hazim (not pictured) at the opening session of the 2nd Syrian Expatriates Conference in Damascus. AP Photo/ Bassem Tellawi

BEIRUT - Syria's top Sunni Muslim cleric has warned Western countries against military intervention in Syria and threatened to retaliate with suicide bombings in the United States and Europe if his country comes under attack.

Western countries have shown no willingness to open a Libyan-style military campaign against the regime of President Bashar Assad, who has launched a bloody crackdown on the seven-month uprising against his rule, and NATO's chief said last week the alliance has "no intention whatsoever" of intervening in Syria.

Still, the prospect of such an intervention seems to have rattled the Assad regime, although publicly, officials say they are confident there would be no such thing because no one wants to foot the bill.

In a speech late Sunday, Grand Mufti Ahmad Badreddine Hassoun, a state-appointed cleric and Assad loyalist, issued a clear warning to the West.

"I say to all of Europe, I say to America, we will set up suicide bombers who are now in your countries, if you bomb Syria or Lebanon," Hassoun said in a speech late Sunday. "From now on, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

Hassoun spoke to a delegation of Lebanese women who came to offer their condolences for his son's death by unknown gunmen earlier this month. "Don't come near our country, I beg you," Hassoun said.

The international community's unwillingness to get directly involved stems from a mix of international political complications, worries over unleashing a civil war and plausible risks of touching off a wider Middle East conflict with archfoes Israel and Iran in the mix.

Hassoun's comments follow another warning by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who told the international community Sunday not to recognize a new umbrella council formed by the opposition, threatening "tough measures" against any country that does so.

Moallem did not specify what measures Damascus might take. But he went on to say that countries that do not protect Syrian missions could find their own embassies treated in the same way.

The Syrian National Council, announced last week in Turkey, is a broad-based group which includes most major opposition factions. No country or international body has recognized it so far as a legal representative of the Syrian people, but the European Union is intensifying its contacts with the nascent Syrian opposition.

EU officials said Monday the were also moving to widen sanctions against Assad's regime, whose ongoing crackdown on civilian protesters has killed nearly 3,000 people.

"I believe we have to get to know them better and get to know their intentions," French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said in Luxembourg of the council.

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