National Counterterrorism Center chief Matthew Olsen warned today that al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) continues to grow in strength in both Iraq and Syria, and said the group is now believed to be at its strongest since 2006, the height of the US occupation of Iraq.
AQI revived itself initially through operations in neighboring Syria, joining the rebellion and quickly gaining a position of significant influence among the foreign Islamist factions that dominate the rebels.
The group’s renaissance in Iraq itself, however, has continued throughout the summer. The Iraqi government launched a crackdown on Sunni protesters in April, and al-Qaeda has used that as a recruitment tool in the nation’s west, as a summer of violence has killed nearly 10,000 people.
Olsen’s report stopped short of speculating whether or not AQI posed any direct threat to the United States, but for the time being the group seems mostly centered around Iraq and Syria, with a lot of efforts going into fighting not only Syria’s Assad government, but secular rebels and Kurdish secessionist factions as well.
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