Not good, not good at all.
About halfway down a New York Times’ story on Hillary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the paper reports a disturbing new detail about the Syrian opposition. According to Clinton, rebels in Syria have been receiving “messages” from a part of Pakistan where al-Qaeda’s core leaders are believed to be hiding out:
She added: “Having said all that, [Syrian leader Bashar] Assad is still killing. The opposition is increasingly being represented by Al Qaeda extremist elements.” She also said that the opposition was getting messages from the ungoverned areas in Pakistan where some of the Qaeda leadership was believed to be hiding — a development she called “deeply distressing.”
It’s no secret that, during the course of the now two-year conflict in Syria, some very nasty rebel groups have emerged there. Some of those groups profess extreme and violent ideologies; one prominent rebel group, Jabhat al-Nusra, is reportedly linked to al-Qaeda’s Iraq-based branch.
But direct communication between Syrian rebels and the core al-Qaeda leadership holed up in Pakistan would be potentially far more significant for two reasons.
First, this would suggest that some rebels have already aligned themselves with al-Qaeda’s global jihad movement, which they could pursue in all sorts of awful ways if and when the civil war ends. That bodes very poorly for post-Assad Syria, with groups like al-Nusra a potential threat to more than just Syrians.
Second, it’s a bad sign because, after several bruising years for al-Qaeda, the group could renew its reach through a potential Syrian proxy.