Clapper: 20 percent of Syrian rebels are Al Qaida, 10 percent foreign
WASHINGTON — The United States has determined an increase in Islamist and rebel militias in Syria in 2013.
The intelligence community has determined that up to 10 percent of the Sunni revolt in Syria consisted of foreign Islamist fighters. Officials said those with the largest foreign fighter presence were Al Qaida militias.
"Complicating this further are the 7,500-plus foreign fighters from some 50 countries who have gravitated to Syria," National Intelligence director James Clapper said. "Among them are a small group of Af/Pak [Afghanistan-Pakistan] Al Qaida veterans who have aspirations for external attack in Europe, if not the homeland itself."
In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 11, Clapper said the Sunni revolt contained between 75,000 and 115,000 fighters. The intelligence community director said at least 20 percent of the revolt consisted of Al Qaida.
"Three of the most effective are the Al Nusra Front, Ahrar Al Sham and the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant, or ISIL as it's known, whose numbers total more than 20,000," Clapper said.
Defense Intelligence Agency director Michael Flynn agreed. In his testimony, Flynn expressed concern over the danger to the United States from the war in Syria, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"There is also the very real possibility that extremists in the Syrian opposition could overrun and exploit chemical and biological weapons storage facilities before all the materials are removed," Flynn said. "The current instability in Syria presents a perfect opportunity for Al Qaida and associated groups to acquire these weapons or their components."