FOREIGN FIGHTERS IN SYRIA STIR US, EU TERROR FEARS

Tue Jul 30, 2013 4:6

TEHRAN (FNA)- A rising number of extremists with western passports are
traveling to Syria to fight against the government of Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad, raising fears among American and European
intelligence officials of a new terrorist threat when the fighters
return home.

More westerners are now fighting in Syria than fought in conflicts in
Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia or Yemen, according to the officials, The
New York Times reported.

The extremist militants go to Syria under the pretext of helping
people but there is growing concern that they get orders from
affiliates of al-Qaeda to carry out terrorist strikes al-Alam
reported.

"The concern going forward from a threat perspective is there are
individuals traveling to Syria, becoming further radicalized, becoming
trained and then returning ... to western Europe and, potentially, to
the United States," Matthew G. Olsen, the director of the National
counterterrorism Center, told a security conference in Aspen, Colo.,
this month.

Classified estimates from western intelligence services put the number
of militants from Europe, North America and Australia who have entered
Syria since 2011 at more than 600. That represents about 10 percent of
the roughly 6,000 foreign militants who have poured into Syria by way
of the Middle-East and North Africa.

Most of the westerners are self-radicalized and are traveling on their
own initiative to Turkey, where rebel facilitators often link them up
with specific groups, terrorism experts say.

Many have joined ranks with the al-Qaeda-aligned al-Nusra Front, which
even American officials have designated as a terrorist group.

"The scale of this is completely different from what we've experienced
in the past," Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union's
counterterrorism coordinator, said at the conference in Aspen.

So far, terrorism experts say, there have been no documented terrorist
plots linked to European or other western fighters returning from
Syria, but France's interior minister, Manuel Valls, recently called
the threat "a ticking time bomb".

Security services across Europe are stepping up their surveillance
efforts and seeking ways to make it more difficult for people
suspected of being radicalized to travel to Syria.

European and other western intelligence agencies are rushing to work
together to track the individuals seeking to cross the border into
Syria from Turkey, though several American officials expressed
frustration that Turkey is not taking more aggressive steps to stem
the flow of Europeans going to fight in Syria.