Al Qaeda's Syria sanctuary
US intelligence officials are concerned that Syria is becoming an al Qaeda haven, as the terror group becomes increasingly intertwined with Ba’athist groups operating from Iraq's neighbor to the west.
Al Qaeda has refocused its efforts to build an infrastructure in eastern Syria after its network in Iraq was decimated by Iraqi and US security forces from 2007 to 2009, and now the organization is partnering with former Ba’athists from Saddam Hussein’s regime.
"A major concern is that eastern Syria will begin to look like northwestern Pakistan," where al Qaeda has joined forces with the Taliban and directs attacks to destabilize Afghanistan, a senior US military intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
In late 2008, the situation in eastern Syria came to a head when US special operations forces struck at al Qaeda's facilitation network in the town of Sukkariya near Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, just five miles from the Iraqi border. US troops killed Abu Ghadiya, al Qaeda's senior facilitator, and his senior staff during the October 2008 raid.
After Ghadiya was killed, al Qaeda sent a senior ideologue from Pakistan to Syria to partner with a dangerous operative who runs the network that funnels foreign fighters, cash, and weapons into western Iraq. Sheikh Issa al Masri is thought to have entered Syria in June 2009, where he paired up with Abu Khalaf, a senior al Qaeda operative who has been instrumental in reviving al Qaeda in Iraq's network in eastern Syria and directing terror operations in Iraq, a US intelligence official told The Long War Journal.
Sheikh Issa is believed to be based in Damascus and is protected by the Mukhabarat, Syria's secret intelligence service. The two al Qaeda leaders are thought to be behind some of the most deadly attacks in Iraq, including the deadly bombings in Baghdad in August and October that targeted government ministries and killed more than 230 Iraqis and wounded nearly 1,000 more.
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