|2000 European militants fighting in Syria: Europol||
There is no overall official figure available regarding EU citizens travelling to take part in the conflict in Syria, but estimates suggest that, by the end of 2013, they numbered between 1200 and 2000, Europol says.
Although depending on the developments in Syria, this number might possibly increase during 2014, the Hague-based European police body noted on Thursday.
Europol believes that the Turkish-Syrian border's accessibility is one factor why more European volunteers travelled to Syria rather than to Afghanistan, Mali, Somalia or Yemen.
It seems likely that Syria will remain the destination of choice for prospective militants departing from EU Member States, as long as the civil war there continues, said the report.
"In the wake of the Syrian conflict, the threat to the EU is likely to increase exponentially. European militants, who travel to conflict zones, are assessed as posing an increased threat to all EU Member States on their return," warned the report.
Between June and September 2013, nine individuals were detained in Ceuta (Spain), suspected of belonging to a network dedicated to sending volunteers to Syria, to fight alongside terrorist groups including al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), it noted.
The network appears to have had international links to Morocco, Belgium, Turkey and Syria, and to have successfully sent at least 12 young Spanish and Moroccan men to Syria, a number of whom died there in suicide attacks or combat, it said.
In addition, there were a number of arrests and convictions across Europe, including in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, in connection to travelling to Syria to participate in the conflict, it added.
‘Assad as an American hero’
In a two-page letter, a Virginia state senator praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for, among other things, taking on America’s ‘arch-enemy’ al-Qaeda. Assad posted the letter on his Facebook page.
Richard Black, a Republican representing northern Virginia’s Loudoun County, also praised the Syrian president for his “heroic” defense of religious minorities, according to Al-Alam.
The senator heaps praise on Assad and his army for protecting Syria’s Christians and the small Jewish community in Damascus. Senator Black says he is “grateful” to Assad for “following the practice of your father” and allowing Syria’s Christians and Jews to practice their faith.
But the focus of the Virginia politician’s letter is on Assad’s valiant and “misunderstood” battle against extremist militants carrying the flag of al-Qaeda. He says that Americans who believe Assad is resisting a moderate and democratic opposition have been “tricked” into supporting the same terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks. Black tells Assad that only he stands in the way of terrorists who would “turn airliners into fireballs” at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.
“I pray that the Syrian armed forces will continue to exhibit extraordinary gallantry in the war against terrorists,” he concludes.
The letter, dated April 1, was posted Sunday on Assad’s Facebook page.
“Americans have fought against Al-Qaeda for 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Black said. “I find it abhorrent that we train and equip those same men to fight against American interests in Syria,” Black questioned.
U.N. mulls Syria aid under Chapter 7
In another development, UN Security Council members are considering a draft resolution to authorize cross-border aid deliveries into Syria at four points without government consent, diplomats said Thursday, after an earlier council demand for greater access was ignored.
The 15-member Security Council achieved rare unity in unanimously approving a resolution in February that demanded rapid, safe and unhindered aid access in Syria, where the three-year civil war has killed more than 160,000 people.
But deputy UN aid chief Kyung-wha Kang told the council Thursday that the resolution had failed to make a difference. About 9.3 million people in Syria need help and 2.5 million have fled, according to the United Nations.
Council members Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan have drafted a stronger follow-up resolution that UN diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said would authorize deliveries into Syria at specific points from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan to reach millions of Syrians in opposition-held areas.
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