U.S. Intel reports �Al Qaida infrastructure� in northeastern Syria

The World Tribune (Link) (November 27, 2009)

The U.S. intelligence community has detected an expanding Al Qaida presence along Syria�s border with Iraq.

Officials said the intelligence community has determined that Al Qaida was expanding its presence in northeastern Syria. They said an increasing number of Al Qaida agents and recruits were operating near the Iraqi border.

�There is an entire Al Qaida infrastructure in eastern Syria that includes induction, training, financing and logistics,� an official said. �The Syrian regime knows about this and allows this to continue.�

The U.S. assessment matched that of Iraqi intelligence, Middle East Newsline reported, which determined that the Al Qaida network in Syria was responsible for the spate of mass-casualty suicide strikes in Baghdad in mid- and late 2009. The U.S. military has concluded that Al Qaida operatives were working with agents of the former Saddam Hussein regime to destabilize the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki.

The intelligence community has assessed that Syrian President Bashar Assad made a decision to enable Al Qaida to operate near Iraq. Officials said the Assad regime has received tens of millions of dollars in bribes as well as a pledge that Syria would not be targeted by the movement led by Osama Bin Laden.

Officials said the Al Qaida presence in Syria was linked to Bin Laden and his aides in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They cited the arrival of a senior Al Qaida cleric, Issa Al Masri, in June 2009, said to have bolstered the Islamic network with funding.

�Al Qaida made a decision that it was safer to place a large part of its assets in eastern Syria than be pursued by the U.S. military in Iraq,� the official said.

Officials said Al Masri, who had been based in Pakistan, became responsible for the transfer of weapons and funds from Syria to Iraq. They said the Assad regime has allowed Al Masri to reside in Damascus.

Two senior Saddam operatives have been working out of Syria. Iraq has asked for the extradition of Sattam Farhan and Mohammed Yunis Al Ahmed, said to be living in Damascus under the protection of Syrian intelligence.

�The targets of the [Al Qaida] bombings are different,� another official said. �It�s no longer putting a bomb in every Shi�ite market. It�s more directed to bringing down the government.�