NEW YORK : The head of the US Central Intelligence Agency says al-Qaeda militants are seeking to establish bases in Syria to plan attacks on Europe and the US.
CIA Director John Brennan recently said before a House of Representatives panel that classified intelligence assessments show midlevel Qaeda planners have travelled from Pakistan to Syria in order to lay the foundation for future strikes against the US and its European allies.
“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the al-Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” he said, according to the NYT. According to US intell officials, Qaeda is seeking “a launching pad” in Syria because they have access to hundreds of American and European militants who have gone there to fight against the Syrian govt and also because Syria is far away from US drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Citing US intelligence officials, the New York Times also reported that al-Qaeda-linked militants are currently focused on attacking Syrian government forces and occasionally rival militant groups.
However, the officials fear that al-Qaeda is also playing a long game by recruiting and training American and European militants in Syria so that the recruits will carry out attacks when they return to their countries.
“Clearly, there is going to be push and pull between local operatives and al-Qaeda central on attack planning. How fast the pendulum will swing toward trying something isn’t clear right now,” an unnamed US intelligence official told the New York Times.
During his first speech as Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Johnson said in February that the Syrian conflict has become a “matter of homeland security” for the US. “Based on our work and the work of our international partners, we know individuals from the US, Canada and Europe are traveling to Syria to fight in the conflict,” Johnson said at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
“Syria has become a matter of homeland security. DHS, the FBI and the intelligence community will continue to work closely to identify those foreign fighters that represent a threat to the homeland,” he added.