Members of al-Qaeda have infiltrated Syrian opposition groups, and likely executed recent bombings in the nation’s capital and largest city, the United States’ top intelligence official said Thursday.
The remarks by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper are the most definitive to date from a senior Obama administration official on al-Qaeda’s efforts to insert itself into the Syrian uprising.
Two bombings in Damascus in December, as well as deadly attacks on security and intelligence buildings in Aleppo last week, “had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda-like attack,” Clapper said, adding that the network’s affiliate in Iraq “is extending its reach into Syria.”
But Clapper suggested that al-Qaeda has so far not sought to call attention to its presence, and that its operatives may have slipped into groups of fighters opposed to the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Qaeda extremists “have infiltrated” opposition groups that “in many cases may not be aware they are there,” Clapper said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services committee.
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Al Qaeda Terror Group: We 'Benefit From' Libyan Weapons
A leading member of an al Qaeda-affiliated terror group indicated the organization may have acquired some of the thousands of powerful weapons that went missing in the chaos of the Libyan uprising, stoking long-held fears of Western officials.
"We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world," Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a leader of the north Africa-based al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb [AQIM], told the Mauritanian news agency ANI Wednesday. "As for our benefiting from the [Libyan] weapons, this is a natural thing in these kinds of circumstances."
The claim comes just days after the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Libya and its neighbors to secure the loose weapons -- including some 20,000 man-portable surface-to-air missiles -- before they could fall into the hands of terrorists. The resolution specifically mentioned AQIM as a dangerous potential beneficiary.
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