Germany reveals Al-Qaeda activity in Syria

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Syrian rebels attack the municipality building in the city center of Selehattin, near Aleppo, on 23 July 2012. (Photo: AFP - Bulent Kilic)

Published Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Al-Qaeda is responsible for at least 90 terror attacks in Syria, according to Germany's intelligence agency, BND.

Citing government responses to a parliamentary inquiry, German daily Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) said Al-Qaeda operatives were well and truly in Syria.

The revelations confirm Western fears that Al-Qaeda is taking advantage of the crisis, potentially undermining rebel efforts against the Syrian regime.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has frequently contended that his forces are fighting primarily an Islamist insurgency.

Berlin also admitted it had information on the May 25 Houla massacre, in which over 100 Syrians were slaughtered, including women and children.

But the German government refused to disclose details of the massacre to the parliamentary inquiry, stating that such information had to remain classified "by reason of national interest."

It is still unclear whether forces loyal to the Syrian regime or rebels were responsible for the massacre. Both sides have traded accusations.

German media has published several reports indicating that rebels were possibly behind the killings, including major newspapers Die Welt, FAZ, and Bild.

CIA struggling in Syria

By contrast, gaps in US intelligence have hampered Washington's efforts to speed the ouster of Assad and develop a clear understanding of opposition forces inside the country, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Citing interviews with US and foreign intelligence officials, the daily reported that US spy agencies in recent months have expanded their efforts to gather intelligence on rebel forces and Assad's regime.

For the most part, however, limitations in intelligence have meant that they are consigned to monitoring intercepted communications and observing the conflict from a distance, the Post wrote.

By contrast, the CIA had a prominent role gathering intelligence from inside Egypt and Libya during revolts in those countries, according to the Washington Post.

With allegedly no CIA operatives on the ground in Syria and only a handful stationed at key border posts, the US spy agency has been heavily dependent on its counterparts in Jordan and Turkey and on other regional allies.

The lack of intelligence also has complicated the Obama administration's efforts to navigate a crisis that carries the risk of bolstering insurgents sympathetic to al-Qaeda, the newspaper reported.

The blurry makeup of Syria's armed rebels has been met with caution from the US, which is refusing to supply the rebels with arms for the moment out of fear that weapons may end up in the hands of Islamists.

Islamist insurgents are said to be playing a prominent role among the armed groups, largely backed and financed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The US has not objected to its allies aiding rebel groups, and is rather facilitating the arms flow on the Turkey-Syria border, according to a Washington Post report in May.

US officials denied the report, insisting the spy agency has not been involved in supplying weapons, but has shared intelligence with countries that are providing arms to the rebels.

The CIA's ability to operate inside Syria was hampered severely by the decision to close the US embassy in Damascus earlier this year, officials said.

The US administration is exploring ways to expand non-lethal support to Syrian opposition groups, officials told the Washington Post.

It said that the agency has supplied encryption-enabled communications gear to opposition groups, presumably enabling the United States to monitor their talks, and that a team of about a half dozen CIA officers based along the Turkey-Syria border has worked to coordinate the flow of equipment.

US support for the rebels has undermined peace efforts, according to Moscow, which Washington in turn accuses of aiding the Syrian regime in its crackdown against dissent.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar, Asia Times)

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