Intel Chief: Syria Becoming Hotbed for Terrorists

Lt. Gen. James Clapper says region has replaced Pakistani tribal lands as breeding ground for terrorists

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The national intelligence chief said in a Senate committee hearing about global security threats on Wednesday that Syria’s civil war is becoming a growth point for radical extremism with the potential to breed attacks against the U.S. in the future.

Syria is now, “in some respects, a new FATA,” said Lt. Gen. James Clapper (Ret.), referring to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, a long-known al-Qaeda base. “What’s going on there and the attraction of these foreign fighters is very, very worrisome.”

Clapper said that 1,600 groups comprised of between 75,000 to 110,000 fighters are thought to be operating in Syria, including about 26,000 extremists.

“We estimate at this point in excess of 7,000 foreign fighters have been attracted from some 50 countries, many of them in Europe and the Mideast,” he said. “We’re seeing now the appearance of training complexes in Syria to train people to go back to their countries and of course conduct more terrorist acts.”

That testimony was echoed by Matthew Olsen, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, who spoke briefly after Clapper: “The combination of a permissive environment, extremist groups like al Nusra and the number of foreign fighters combine to make Syria a place that we are very concerned about, in particular the potential for terrorist attacks emanating from Syria to the West.”

Clapper’s remarks come less than a year after Jordan’s King Abdullah reportedly told senior Obama administration officials that “Syria is going to become the new FATA, the breeding ground from where they launch attacks,” if the ground situation did not stabilize.