The Washington Post called Senator Ron Johnson’s question about the Syrian rebels, and Kerry’s answer (which Vladimir Putin called a huge lie) one of the 10 most interesting moments in Tuesday’s Senate hearing on Syria.
Islamist groups have become stronger and tend to be better armed and financed than others. Two of the strongest are Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq, both of them linked to al-Qaida. JAN insists on a future Syria becoming an Islamic state under sharia law, and has openly pledged its allegiance to the al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Another important group is Ahrar al-Sham. Sectarianism is also becoming more pronounced, with foreign Arab Shia fighters (including Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah) arriving to fight Sunni extremists. Large numbers of liberal and secular opposition figures have left the country. Important work is still done on the ground by the Local Co-ordination Committees.
The Guardian reported back in July that Al-Qaida had “turned the tide” for rebels in battle for eastern Syria.
As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.
But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba’a, or “strangers”, after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden’s time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.
This assessment was revealed in the annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which was released in July. The committee, chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind, has oversight over all British intelligence agencies as well as Britain’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). The report covered the committee’s work and conclusions from July 2012 through June 2013.
“The Agencies and JTAC assess that Al-Qaeda elements and individual jihadists in Syria currently represent the most worrying emerging terrorist threat to the UK and the West,” said the report in a section titled, “The Agencies’ Assessment of the Threat.”
“There is a risk of extremist elements in Syria taking advantage of the permissive environment to develop external attack plans, including against Western targets,” the report continued.
“Large numbers of radicalized individuals have been attracted to the country, including significant numbers from the UK and Europe,” the report said. “They are likely to acquire expertise and experience which could significantly increase the threat posed when they return home. Furthermore, there is growing concern about the risks around extremist groups in Syria gaining access to regime stocks of chemical weapons.”
And John Kerry’s State Department has issued a US travel warning: Al Qaeda-Affiliated Syrian Rebels Have ‘Claimed Nearly 600 Attacks’.
…the State Department is maintaining a travel warning advising Americans not to travel to Syria because the al-Nusrah Front, the al Qaeda affiliate in Syria–which is participating in the rebellion seeking to overthrow Assad–has carried out about 600 attacks in the country since November 2011.
These al Qaeda terrorist attacks, according to the State Department, have killed many Syrian civilians.
Secretary of State John Kerry of all people should know the rebel fighters have become “more infiltrated” by al Qaeda as time has gone by. The rebels have not been “increasingly more defined by their moderation” etc as he said.
I’m sorry to say it, but I have to agree with Putin on this one.