(DAMASCUS, Syria) — From the beginning of his government’s conflict with rebel forces, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sought to paint his opponents as mainly members of al Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups.
Now, there may be some truth to what he’s alleged.
U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about the increasing influence of al Qaeda in the attempts to overthrow al-Assad with Syria’s neighbor Iraq especially concerned that this could help the still-active insurgency in its country.
There was no question at the start of the uprising 17 months ago that it was being led by peaceful opponents to al-Assad’s regime, who only took up arms in response to violent government crackdowns against cities where the rebels were most prominent.
From that, the Free Syrian Army rose up as well as other factions that have frustrated the government’s attempt to quell what the Red Cross recently termed a civil war in Syria.
Slowly, however, al Qaeda has been making its presence known and some of the deadliest bombings occurring against the Syrian government have been blamed on the terrorist group and its allies.
This has been problematic for the White House and the West, which has been urged to intervene militarily in the conflict. Part of their resistance has to do with not emboldening al Qaeda, which counts Sunni extremists among its numbers.
According to Baghdad, these are the same militants who are currently wreaking havoc across Iraq, mainly targeting Shiite civilians and government security forces.
Most counterterrorism experts in the U.S. now believe that al Qaeda is trying to exploit the turmoil in Syria to its advantage and are succeeding at it to some degree.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ivana Kottasova, CNN
Sugam Pokharel and AJ Willingham, CNN