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Syria Emerging as World’s Most Alarming Terrorist Threat

Rebels from al Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra / AP
• August 9, 2013 2:02 pm

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Counterterrorism experts fear that Syria is emerging as the world’s most alarming terrorist threat as thousands of foreign jihadists stream in to fight President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the New York Times reports.

Many of the foreign fighters have joined the al-Nusra Front, a well-organized and well-armed al-Qaeda-linked rebel group.

But others are assembling under a new, even more extreme umbrella group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that is merging some Syrians with fighters from around the world — Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt and the West, as well as Al Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni insurgent group that rose to prominence in the fight against the American occupation in the years after the 2003 invasion. The concern is that a new affiliate of al Qaeda could be emerging from those groups.

It was the fear of militants coming to dominate the opposition that caused the United States and its Western allies to hold off providing lethal aid to the Syrian opposition, at least until now. But as a result, counterterrorism analysts say, they lost a chance to influence the battle in Syria. Even congressional supporters of the C.I.A.'s covert program to arm moderate elements of the Syrian opposition fear the delivery of weapons, set to begin this month, will be too little, too late.

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill Gertz previously reported that al Qaeda-linked rebel groups, which have gained a foothold in northeastern Syria as Assad’s forces retake areas in the south and east, killed a key commander of the more moderate and U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) last month.

While the FSA at the time vowed to open up a third front against the extremist groups in the Syrian civil war, the Times reports that FSA leaders have found it difficult to resist partnering with the al Qaeda-linked groups and their superior resources and fighting ability. One jihadist group helped the FSA seize the Menagh air base in Aleppo Province this week, an effort that lasted almost a year:

After the battle, Col. Abdul Jabbar al-Okaidi, the head of the United States-backed opposition’s Aleppo military council, appeared in a video alongside Abu Jandal, a leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

In camouflage, Col. Okaidi offered thanks to "our brothers al-Muhajireen wal Ansar and others," adding: "We’re here to kiss every hand pressed on the trigger." He then ceded the floor to Abu Jandal and a mix of jihadist and Free Syrian Army leaders, who stood together, each praising his men, like members of a victorious basketball team.

Published under: Al-Nusra, Middle East, Syria