Will Al-Qaeda Affiliates Turn Their Sights Against the U.S.?

By Emile Nakhleh

Dr. Emile Nakhleh is a retired Senior Intelligence Service Officer, a founding director of the CIA's Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program and the Global and the National Security Policy Institute at the University of New Mexico. Since retiring from the government, Nakhleh has consulted on national security issues, particularly Islamic radicalization, terrorism, and the Arab states of the Middle East. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

As the U.S. focuses its attention on defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq, al Qaeda has managed to expand its presence in Syria and now controls Syria’s northwestern Idlib province with a population of two million people. In Idlib, al Qaeda has emerged as the head of an umbrella coalition of several jihadist groups battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has presented itself as a group that is fighting on behalf of the Syrian people. The Cipher Brief’s Bennett Seftel sat down with Emile Nakhleh, Cipher Brief expert and a former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, to discuss al Qaeda in Syria’s evolution, the group’s objectives, and how much of a threat it poses both in the region and abroad.

The Cipher Brief: Al Qaeda linked militants in Syria formed an umbrella group known Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which has incorporated several Syrian rebel factions, has taken hold of Idlib province in northwestern Syria, and now represents the strongest opposition to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. How has the group managed to consolidate power? Does it represent a formidable rebel force?

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