Syria Becomes Largest Home to Al-Qaeda; Jihadists Find Safe Haven to Plot Attacks – Kristina Wong
Syria has become al-Qaeda’s largest safe haven, with more than 10,000 fighters who outnumber the terrorist network’s core organization in Pakistan and its affiliates in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The development, analysts say, provides al-Qaeda with a new base from which to attack Western targets, attract recruits to its jihadist doctrine, finance its operations and expand its influence throughout the Middle East.
In addition, the terrorists are consolidating their hold in Syria – generating revenue by selling oil confiscated from wells in the eastern part of the country, setting up Islamic courts and other means of government, and enforcing borders with neighboring countries, U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Thursday.
“No matter where the Syrian conflict ends up going, no matter who ends up winning, al-Qaeda will stay in Syria for a long period of time,” said Charles Lister of the global security analysis firm IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center in London. “Syria represents the biggest and best opportunity al-Qaeda has had for a very long time to establish a truly concrete presence anywhere in the Muslim world.”
An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates are in Syria, said a U.S. government official. There are an additional 800 to 2,500 affiliated jihadists on the country’s border with Iraq. Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq and Syria are so linked that U.S. officials now consider that al-Qaeda in Iraq has essentially become one entity with the self-styled ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Another al-Qaeda affiliate is fighting in Syria – Jabhat al-Nusra. (Washington Times)