Syria power vacuum could pave way for al Qaeda leadership

(CBS News) Senior U.S. intelligence officials are concerned about the growing presence of al Qaeda terrorists in civil war-torn Syria. In a statement released over the weekend, the State Department said the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI)  has  moved himself and the group's operations to Syria. A State Department spokesperson also noted that the deadly suicide attacks and car bombings carried out in Iraq in recent days can be attributed to AQI. 

CIA Deputy Director Michael Morrell warned of the risk of the collapse of the Syrian government -- which possesses a considerable stockpile of chemical and advanced weapons --  namely, a power vacuum which would leave room for al Qaeda to take hold and take advantage of their weapons cache and technical capabilities.

The al Qaeda movement is very much "based on ideology and has very little to do with the kind of organization" that the U.S. is accustomed to, according to CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, who cited Syria's "massive stockpile of chemical weapons" and depth of knowledge about employing those weapons as a unique threat compared to other, previous al Qaeda training havens.

"The people who know the most about chemical weapons in the United States say that what is scary about Syria is not just the presence of chemical stockpiles ...it's the the technical knowledge and training and know-how and the delivery system required to deliver those weapons," Logan said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning." 

"Nobody knows yet who's going to win the peace in Syria," she added, "It might very well be al Qaeda."

The threat is "dangerous enough for the Deputy Director of the CIA to say there are more foreign fighters flooding into Syria to fight for al Qaeda today than there ever were at the height of the war with Iraq," Logan said on "CBS This Morning."

Many of the fighters now based in Syria likely came from Afghanistan, North Africa, Yemen and Iraq, where they learned to fight the U.S., Logan explained.

"That organization [in Syria] is in very close contact with Ayman al-Zawahri, who is in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region," she said. Al-Zawahri is Osama bin Laden's successor, who in 2001, laid out his long-term plan for the global jihadi movement.

The al Qaeda group currently based in Syria has been known as al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and recently changed their name to The Islamic State of Iraq, to reflect their growing ambitions.  AQI is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who is now based in Syria. The U.S. has offered a $10 million reward for information that leads to the kill or capture of al-Baghdadi.

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