European security officials are working together with the Syrian government to deal with the threat of European terrorists currently honing their battle skills in Syria. Damascus says there is a schism between politicians and security people in the West.
Intelligence agents from several European countries, including the UK, Germany, France and Spain, traveled to Damascus to speak with Syrian officials on the looming problem of European radicals fighting the war in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The meetings started at least in mid-summer last year, the newspaper said citing anonymous European and Middle-Eastern sources. Their prime contact in the Syrian government was Ali Mamlouk, a special security adviser to President Bashar Assad.
The agents sought to share information on at least 1,200 European terrorists, who traveled to Syria and joined Islamist opposition groups trying to topple the government. They cross-checked the names of suspected militants against the information possessed by Damascus intelligence services, wishing to learn whether those fighters are still alive, their whereabouts and which factions they were fighting for.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad confirmed that such security contacts are indeed taking place, but would not provide details.
Mekdad told BBC that there was a schism between Western security officials and politicians who are pressing President Bashar al-Assad to step down.
In a recent interview, Mekdad told BBC that many Western governments had finally understood that there was no alternative to the leadership of President Assad.
Asked if Western intelligence agencies - including British intelligence - had recently visited Damascus, he said: "I will not specify but many of them have visited Damascus, yes."
On the subject of whether Syria was getting more requests from Western countries to have their diplomats return to Damascus, he added: "Yes, there are many countries who are approaching us. Of course some are waiting for Geneva, some are saying we are exploring the possibilities, some are saying we want to co-operate on security measures because those terrorists they are sending from Western Europe into Turkey, into Syria, have become a real threat to them."
However, the BBC's chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet said informed sources had confirmed meetings between Western and Syrian intelligence officials.
An official from the Syrian National Coalition recently said the U.S. and Britain had warned they would rethink their support if the group failed to join the peace talks.
The growth of terrorist groups among militants fighting Syrian troops has caused international concern.
Syrian government officials are due to attend peace talks in Geneva next week.
However, the main opposition group, the so-called Syrian National Coalition, has still not decided whether or not to take part.
Correspondents say the growing disarray of the opposition is frustrating the West and bolstering the confidence of the Syrian government.
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