A new report by an Israeli security research institute warns that Al Qaeda is in the process of constructing its main regional Middle East base in Syria, from which it plans to export terrorism and Islamic radicalism to nearby states and to the West.
According to the report by the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, the Al-Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra) is an Al-Qaeda Salafist-jihadi network prominent in Syrian rebel organizations. The network’s goal is to overthrow the Assad regime and establish an Islamic Caliphate in Greater Syria, a center for regional and international terrorism and subversion.
The report, reviewed by Yaakov Lappin at the Gatestone Institute, describes the Al Nusra Front as Al Qaeda’s official arm in Syria. The report adds that the organization is quickly entrenching itself in the north and east of Syria, where the Assad regime’s rule has collapsed.
Dr. Reuven Erlich, the head of the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, noted the Al Nusra Front is establishing itself in Syria at a rate several times faster than did Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in order to become a serious international terrorist presence.
Erlich warned as well that Syria’s location in the heart of the Middle East, its nearness to Europe, and its shared border with Israel make the jihadi threat from Syria even greater than that from Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Like a virus that spreads after an incubation period, Erlich said the plague of jihad will spread outwards and eventually threaten global security.
Though Syria’s diverse sectarian, ethnic, and religious population, as well as its strong history of secular Arab nationalism, will all work against the completion of a caliphate, the report’s authors believe the network is on course to become prominent in playing a key role in shaping a post-Assad Syria at the same time it utilizes its presence to launch international terrorist attacks.
Another jihadi organization, called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, formed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, is also reportedly operating in Syria.
“The two branches together have an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 operatives in our assessment, and the number is growing,” states the report.
Al Nusra’s tactics include suicide car bombings, roadside bombs, suicide bombers on foot, and firings on bases and airfields with small arms and mortars.
Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia–all of which support the rebels–could be targets of Al Nusra through subversive, radical Islamists entering them and setting up terrorist cells.
The report indicates that in northern Syria, Al Nusra and its allies have seized key national resources such as oil and gas fields, oil pipelines, dams, power plants, and grain silos. These sites are now run by jihadis who make their profit to purchase weapons and pay their operatives by selling oil and gas to the Assad regime.
According to the report, “In the absence of the considerations of restraint that influence other terrorist organizations, such as Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist organizations,” Al Nusra could obtain chemical and biological weapons as well.