CNN Report: Al-Qaida Controls More Territory than Ever

Thursday, 09 Jan 2014 01:35 PM

By Melanie Batley

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From Western Syria to small areas of Falluja in central Iraq, al-Qaida now controls more than 400 miles of territory, more real estate in the Arab world than it has at any other time, according to a CNN report.

Al-Qaida leaders have long indicated that their strategic goal was to seize control of a state or part of a state in the Middle East as a crucial step toward achieving regime change in the Arab world and installing Taliban-style governments, CNN reported Wednesday.

Al-Qaida's affiliate in Iraq on Friday seized control of parts of the city of Falluja and parts of the city of Ramadi, areas that are home predominantly to Sunni Muslims who feel oppressed by the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

During recent sectarian tensions an al-Qaida affiliate, ISIS, took advantage of the friction to "notch some battlefield victories," according to CNN.

The ISIS group is also operating in Syria and has established its presence in many key areas in the country's northwest. In September, a CNN reporting team concluded, "Al-Qaida has swept to power with the aim of imposing a strict Islamist ideology on Syrians across large swathes of Syria's rebel-held north."

"In sum, al-Qaida affiliates now control much of northern and northwestern Syria as well as some parts of eastern Syria, as well as much of Anbar province, which is around a third of Iraqi territory," the CNN report noted.

Jihadist websites are releasing videos of al-Qaida-affiliated fighters providing food, healthcare, legal services, and electricity to civilians in a number of cities and suburbs of Damascus even while the government still enjoys fairly secure authority.

But despite al-Qaida's expansion, conflicts are erupting in Syria which have taken a toll on ISIS and forced them to withdraw from a number of key towns.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday that the U.S. will "do everything that is possible to help" the Iraqi government resist al-Qaida's expansion, but stressed no American troops would be sent to the country. Last month, however, the U.S. sent Hellfire missiles and surveillance drones to the Iraqi government to support their fight against increasing al-Qaida-related violence.

"For the United States the widening reach of al-Qaida in the Middle East doesn't necessarily translate into an immediate threat at home. So far only a handful of Americans have fought in the Syrian conflict alongside al-Qaida's affiliates there, so concerns about some kind of 'blowback' from the Syrian war in the U.S. are, at this point, unfounded," the CNN report concluded.

The cable network, however, said the United States and its allies should "make a careful effort to track the foreign fighters who have joined jihadist groups fighting in Syria."

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