WASHINGTON (AP) — Concern is growing that al-Qaida may be gaining a foothold inside Syria as the country's civil war deepens.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials say there a couple hundred militants with links to al-Qaida already operating in the country and are building a network of well-organized cells. They say units are spreading from city to city, with veterans of the Iraq insurgency employing their expertise in bomb-building to carry out more than two dozen attacks so far. Others are using their experience in coordinating small units of fighters in Afghanistan to win new followers.
The officials say the group would be hard to defeat if the rebels eventually oust Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Rebel commanders in Syria today appealed anew for new and better weapons from abroad, complaining that Assad's forces have them badly outgunned from the air and on the ground. The rebel leaders say that are getting so little aid from the U.S. and other nations, that they are losing the battle for influence against hardline militants.