Syria: A Crossroads For Terrorism

For many extremists operating in the Middle East, there's one hub, one road where most paths cross: Damascus, Syria, where a diverse mix of terror organizations blacklisted by the United States government converge to find refuge and the support of President Bashar al-Assad.

There are more than 15 various extremist groups based in Damascus, ranging from the small, secular Palestinian-backed PFLP to both Sunni and Shiite Islamic fundamentalist groups.

There's Hezbollah, the largest and best-armed militia in the world. It's financed by Iran and supported and used by Syria as a proxy army inside Lebanon. Since last year's war with Israel, it's also been hailed as a legitimate resistance movement in the Arab and Muslim world.

The largest group based in Syria is Hamas, whose Islamist Green Revolution swept to power in Palestinian elections last year and then seized control of the Gaza Strip after ousting the Fatah forces in violent street battles.


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On Thursday, CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Katie Couric met with Hamas leader Musa Abu Marzouk, who once lived in the United States - where he has been indicted for terrorist financing and is listed as a "Specially Designated Terrorist" by the U.S. Treasury Department.

"Why do you think the Syrian government has offered such strong and public support of Hamas?" Couric asks.

"We're facing the same problem, the same enemy," Marzouk says.

"Israel?" asks Couric.

"Yes, of course, Israel

Marzouk now operates from Damascus, where he directs much of the group's activities inside the Palestinian territories.

For people like Marzouk, Damascus is a safe haven where extremist leaders are granted diplomatic immunity along with channels for arms smuggling, banking and logistical support. It's a place where the three allies in the struggle against Israel and America are everywhere on display.

But most threatening of all to the U.S. are the hundreds of al Qaeda foreign fighters recruited throughout the Arab world who travel to Damascus, where they are met and escorted across the Iraq border to become human bombs.

"Syria has played a decisive role in frustrating the American project in Iraq in helping the resistance and the insurgency in Iraq, in bleeding forces in Iraq," says Sarah Lawrence College professor Fawaz Gerges.

Charged with fueling extremist fires to the east in Iraq, to the west in Lebanon, and to the south in Israel, President Assad has become one of the region's greatest jugglers. But it is a game that has left him increasingly isolated and dependent on Iran - his one strategic ally in the region.