Kerry Admits: ‘Many Al Qaeda Leaders Now Operating in Syria’

August 16, 2013 - 2:04 PM

Secretary of State John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

(CNSNews.com) - Speaking Thursday at a joint appearance with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that there were “many al Qaeda leaders now operating in Syria”—where President Barack Obama decided two months ago to provide military support to rebel forces fighting alongside al Qaeda to overthrow the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.

Asad is a member of the Alawite sect, which is a derivative of Shiite Islam; the Syrian rebels are predominantly Sunni, and al Qaeda is Sunni.

According to the CIA, Assad’s Alawite sect represents no more than 16 percent of the Syrian population, while 74 percent of Syrians are Sunni. In Iraq, by contrast, about 32 to 37 percent of the population in Sunni and 60 to 65 percent is Shiite. Al Qaeda is in opposition to both the Shiite-connected government of Syria and the Shiite-majority government of Iraq.

“Iraq sits at the intersection of regional currents of increasingly turbulent, violent, and unpredictable actions,” said Kerry. “Sunni and Shia extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide throughout the region have an ability to be able to threaten Iraq’s stability if they’re not checked.

“And al-Qaida, as we have seen, has launched a horrific series of assaults on innocent Iraqis, even taking credit for the deplorable bombings this past weekend that targeted families that were celebrating the Eid holiday,” said Kerry. “And this al-Qaida network, we know, stretches well beyond Iraq’s borders. With many al-Qaida leaders now operating in Syria, we all need to accelerate our work in order to set the conditions for a diplomatic settlement to the Syrian crisis.”

“We hope also to discuss this morning the issue of weapons flowing from the Syrian conflict into Iraq for use against Iraqis or weapons flowing through Iraq and going into Syria,” said Kerry. “It’s a two-way street and it’s a dangerous street.”

Last December, the U.S. government officially designated the Nusra Front, which is part of the Syrian opposition, an al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group.

According to report on the Syrian conflict published in June by the Congressional Research Service, the Nusra Front’s allies in the Syrian opposition reacted negatively to the administration’s listing of this al Qaeda organization as a terrorist group.

"In December 2012, the Obama administration designated the Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and as an alias of al-Qaida in Iraq," said CRS. "Reactions from some Syrian opposition leaders and armed groups were negative. Several armed groups made statements of solidarity with al-Nusra, and prominent civilian figures, including then-President [Ahmed] Khateeb of the SOC [Syrian Opposition Coalition], requested that the U.S. government reconsider the designation."

In June, six months after his administration designated the Nusra Front an al Qaeda alias and terrorist group, President Obama decided to provide military support to the Syrian opposition.

"The president has made a decision about providing more support to the opposition that will involve providing direct support to the SMC [the rebels' Supreme Military Command Council]," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters June 13. "That includes military support."