U.S. Fears Syria’s Violence Will Spread to West

Director of National Intelligence nominee James Clapper testifies during the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on his nomination on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 20, 2010.
Sara Sorcher
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Sara Sorcher
Jan. 29, 2014, 5:57 a.m.

Ex­trem­ists are tak­ing ad­vant­age of the chaos cre­ated by the Syr­i­an civil war — and might leave the war-torn coun­try to carry out at­tacks in the West.

That’s a big worry for the In­tel­li­gence lead­ers testi­fy­ing be­fore the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee on Wed­nes­day.

“Syr­ia has be­come a huge mag­net for ex­trem­ists,” Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per said.

The hodge­podge of some 1,600 rebel fac­tions op­er­at­ing in Syr­ia in­cludes groups with ex­trem­ist ties, in­clud­ing Qaida af­fil­i­ate Jabhat al-Nusra, which Clap­per said does as­pire to carry out at­tacks on the U.S. home­land. More than 7,000 for­eign fight­ers have traveled to Syr­ia for the battle against em­battled Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad. They’re com­ing from some 50 coun­tries, many of them in Europe and the Middle East.

Ex­trem­ists, Clap­per said, are also get­ting train­ing and weapons as they join with these groups in Syr­ia. “We’re see­ing now the ap­pear­ance of train­ing com­plexes in Syr­ia to train people to go back to their coun­tries and con­duct more ter­ror­ist at­tacks,” Clap­per said. “This is a huge con­cern to all of us.”

With this “per­missive en­vir­on­ment” for ex­trem­ists, Na­tion­al Coun­terter­ror­ism Cen­ter Dir­ect­or Mat­thew Olsen said, the U.S. is par­tic­u­larly con­cerned about the “po­ten­tial for ter­ror­ist at­tacks em­an­at­ing from Syr­ia to the West.” Olsen told Na­tion­al Journ­al pre­vi­ously that deal­ing with Syr­ia would be the primary coun­terter­ror­ism fo­cus of 2014.

The com­mit­tee’s top Re­pub­lic­an, Saxby Cham­b­liss, wanted to know if the ter­ror­ist threat against U.S. in­terests over­seas has in­creased or di­min­ished — but the an­swer he got was not simple. While the ideo­lo­gic­al cen­ter of the Qaida move­ment re­mains in the FATA, or fed­er­ally ad­min­istered tri­bal areas along the por­ous Pakistan-Afgh­anistan bor­der, Clap­per said, its “locus for op­er­a­tion­al plan­ning” is dis­persed throughout a dozen coun­tries, in­clud­ing Ye­men, Somalia, and now Syr­ia.

In Syr­ia, Clap­per said, there’s a pos­sib­il­ity the un­rest could turn the war-torn coun­try in­to a “new FATA” — which he said is “very, very wor­ri­some.”

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