06/15/2012, 00.00
IRAN - SYRIA
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Al Qaeda's rise in the Mediterranean more dangerous than Iranian nuclear programme

The provocative statement comes from Hassad Firouzabadi, chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces. Diplomatic sources and experts confirm the terror network's increased activity in the region. Muslim extremists want to get their hands on Assad's chemical weapons and medium-range missiles.

Tehran (AsiaNews/ Agencies) - The establishment of "Al-Qaeda on the southeast coast of the Mediterranean is more dangerous than the threat of nuclear weapons," said Iranian Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, in what amounts to a provocation. He spoke a few days before the Moscow meeting between Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council of the US, Russia, China, UK and France, plus Germany).

According to Firouzabadi, who is the Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, the terrorist movement has already replaced the late Osama bin-Laden and is moving its main forces from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan to the Mediterranean with the complicity of Western forces. Although biased, Firzouzabadi's words have a kernel of truth.

For months the United Nations and Western nations have denied the presence of al Qaeda operatives in the ranks of the Syrian Free Army; now British Foreign Secretary William Hague and UN Secretary General Ban ki-moon have both acknowledged their presence.

News accounts about foreigner fighters trying to cross into Syria from Turkey with Turkish approval have been pouring in on a daily basis.

In an interview with AsiaNews on 24 May, Mgr Nazzaro, apostolic vicar in Alep, complained about the presence of foreign troops who are not in Syria for peaceful purposes. Foreign fighters are overrunning the country, he noted, coming from Tunisia, Libya, Turkey, Pakistan and other Muslim states. "Weapons and money are pouring across the borders to feed the spiral of violence."

For terror expert Chris Dobson, al-Qaeda is using the Syrian crisis as it did the Libyan crisis, using Western support for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA), to send its men to the Mediterranean.

"There is mounting evidence that al-Qaeda militants are fleeing from their vulnerable hide-outs and setting up bases among the rebels in Syria," Dobson explained.

Once the Syrian regime is overthrown, Syria and Lebanon would be an ideal location from which to launch attacks against the West.

The terror group also wants to get its hands on the Syrian regime's arsenals with its Russian heavy weaponry, including chemical weapons, and medium range missiles that could shoot down airliners.

Yesterday, British tabloid The Sun obtained pictures and footage showing a masked gunman brandishing a machine gun flanked by rocket-propelled grenade launchers as he hails the war against Assad.

The video, released by a group called Al-Nusra, was posted on websites connected to al-Qaeda.

Another extremist website posted the last message of Abu Yahya al-Libi, al Qaeda's second in command who was killed on 5 June by a US drone in Pakistan's tribal area on the border with Afghanistan.

In the 15-minute video, Libi calls on Syrians to abandon any "illusions of peacefulness" and fight Assad and what he called US conspiracies against the Islamic revolution.

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