Director of the U.S. National Intelligence James Clapper saidThursday that al-Qaeda remains a threat despite its “degraded capabilities and its focus on smaller, simpler plots.”
Clapper told a US Senate hearing that “as long as we sustain the pressure, we judge that core al-Qaeda will be of largely symbolic importance to the global jihadist movement.” “But regional affiliates, and to a lesser extent small cells and individuals, will drive the global jihad agenda,” he remarked.
As for the uprising in Middle East and North Africa, Clapper said that “those pushing for change are confronting ruling elites; sectarian, ethnic and tribal division; lack of experience with democracies; stalled economic development; military and security force resistance and regional power initiatives.”
He stressed that “these are fluid political environments that offer openings for extremists to participate more assertively in political life.”
In Syria, Clapper affirmed that “regime intransigence and social divisions are prolonging internal struggles and could potentially turn domestic upheavals into regional crises.”
Asked if he sees a continued stalemate in Syria, Clapper said: “I think it will just continue. We don’t see any, short of a coup or something like that that Assad will hang in there and continue to do as he’s done.”
He noted that “another disturbing phenomenon that we’ve seen recently, apparently, is the presence of extremists who have infiltrated the opposition groups.” He added that “the opposition groups in many cases may not be aware that they’re there.”
Clapper shed light on the two bombings in Damascus in December, and the two additional bombings in Aleppo, saying “both of which were targeted against security and intelligence buildings and had all the earmarks of an al-Qaeda-like attack.”
“So we believe that al-Qaeda in Iraq is extending its reach into Syria,” he stressed.
He continued saying that Syria has an “extensive network” of chemical weapons sites but that “to this point, and we’re watching these very carefully, they appear to be secure.”