August 20, 2007

Al-Qaeda's Travel Agent: Damascus International Airport Is a Hub for Terrorists

From Al-Qaeda's Travel Agent: Damascus International Airport Is a Hub for Terrorists by Sen. Joseph Lieberman:

The United States is at last making significant progress against al-Qaeda in Iraq - but the road to victory now requires cutting off al-Qaeda's road to Iraq through Damascus.

Recently declassified American intelligence reveals just how much al-Qaeda in Iraq is dependent for its survival on the support it receives from the broader, global al-Qaeda network, and how most of that support flows into Iraq through one country - Syria. Al-Qaeda in Iraq is sustained by a transnational network of facilitators and human smugglers, who replenish its supply of suicide bombers - approximately 60 to 80 Islamist extremists, recruited every month from across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe, and sent to meet their al-Qaeda handlers in Syria. That is why we now must focus on disrupting this flow of suicide bombers - and that means focusing on Syria, through which up to 80% of the Iraq-bound extremists transit.

Before al-Qaeda's foreign fighters can make their way across the Syrian border into Iraq, they must first reach Syria - and the overwhelming majority does so by flying into Damascus International Airport, making the airport the central hub of al-Qaeda travel in the Middle East, and the most vulnerable chokepoint in al-Qaeda's war against Iraq and the U.S. in Iraq.

This is not the first use of Damascus airport by terrorists. It has long been the central transit point for Iranian weapons en route to Hizbullah, in violation of UN Security Council sanctions, as well as for al-Qaeda operatives moving into and out of Lebanon.

Responsible air carriers should be asked to stop flights into Damascus as long as it remains the main terminal of international terror. Despite its use by al-Qaeda and Hizbullah terrorists, the airport continues to be serviced by many major non-U.S. carriers, including Alitalia, Air France, and British Airways.