WASHINGTON -- At least 50 Americans have joined the mix of extremist groups that are fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad, and some could try to mount terrorist attacks at home, U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday.
Intelligence officials say the Syrian civil war has become one of the biggest magnets for Islamic extremists around the globe since CIA-backed militants fought to oust Soviet troops from Afghanistan in the 1980s, a war that ultimately gave rise to Al Qaeda.
James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday that “7,500 or so” foreign fighters are in Syria from 50 countries. Clapper had cited an estimate of 7,000 at a Senate hearing last week.
A U.S. intelligence official told The Times that the total includes at least 50 Americans, a more concrete estimate than authorities have given previously. He declined to be identified because he was not authorized to discuss the figure publicly.
A report in January by the Israel-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center estimated that as many as 1,800 people from European countries have also fought in Syria.
CIA Director John Brennan said Tuesday that Al Qaeda is training foreign fighters at camps in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals … to use Syria as a launching pad” for attacks on the West, Brennan said.