By Jamie Crawford
High levels of sectarianism, carnage and the overall grinding nature of Syria's civil war continue to make that country a top destination for extremists, a top U.S. official said.
"Syria has become the pre-eminent location for al Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, to train and to equip what is now a growing number of extremists, some of who seek to conduct external attacks," Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told a congressional hearing on Thursday.
"From a terrorism perspective, the most disturbing element is that al Qaeda has declared Syria its most critical front," he said.
Olsen testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee alongside Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Assistant Secretary of Defense Derek Chollet about the crisis in Syria and the ongoing standoff with Russia over the situation in Ukraine.
By Laura Koran
Syria carried out "egregious human rights violations" last year, according to a State Department assessment released on Thursday that also singled out abuses in Russia and the Ukraine.
The 2013 Human Rights Report, based on assessments from America's embassies abroad, reserved its strongest language for the Syrian government, which allegedly gassed its own people last August in an atrocity linked to the ongoing civil war.
"Hundreds were murdered in the dead of night when a disaster occurred at the hands of a dictator, who decided to infect the air of Damascus with poisonous gas," Secretary of State John Kerry said in presenting the report.
"And many more have been, unfortunately, confined to die under a barrage of barrel bombs, scud missiles, artillery and other conventional weapons," he said.
By Jamie Crawford
The U.S. homeland security chief says chaos and instability in Syria remain a top concern for protecting the country from attack.
"I would say that for those of us in national security and homeland security in this government, this particular issue is at the top of the list or near the top of the list for us," Homeland Security Secretary told a congressional hearing on Wednesday.
By Barbara Starr
Intelligence increasingly shows al Qaeda is encouraging American and other western fighters in Syria to undertake special training to prepare them for possibly returning to their home countries to carry out attacks, U.S. officials told CNN.
National security officials are concerned that amid the mayhem of Syria's civil war, the global terror group has found a safe haven and a place where it again can recruit, plot and train operatives to carry out attacks on the U.S. homeland.
By Jamie Crawford
Iran is rolling back parts of its nuclear program and getting relief from sanctions in return as an interim agreement aimed at gauging Tehran's willingness to curb its nuclear ambitions appears to be working with global powers gearing up for talks on Tuesday to forge a long-term pact.
"So far everyone, both Iran and all of the rest of us who provided some very limited, targeted sanctions relief have kept their commitments," Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official and lead negotiator for the United States on the Iran deal, told Wolf Blitzer on Monday in an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room."
Sherman, the under secretary for political fairs, spoke from Vienna where talks on a comprehensive accord between Iran, the United States, Germany and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are due to begin on Tuesday.
By Elise Labott
Authorities have detained an Egyptian employee of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, State Department officials and Egyptian media reports said, a move likely to further strain already tense relations.
Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, confirmed reports the employee in the embassy's political section was detained on January 25 and has been held without charges since.
By Salma Abdelaziz and Jim Sciutto
Syria has shipped out 11% of its chemical weapons stockpile - falling far short of the February 5 deadline to have all such arms removed from the country, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told CNN Wednesday.
The slow pace of removal prompted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to warn last month that all options remain available to force compliance.
The OPCW is now in touch with senior Syrian officials to discuss a new schedule going forward.
By Jamie Crawford
A security vacuum over vast areas of Syria could allow extremists to access weapons of mass destruction, a top U.S. intelligence official said.
"The current instability in Syria presents a perfect opportunity for al Qaeda and associated groups," to acquire Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons that are scheduled to be destroyed," Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
By Mike M. Ahlers
The Syrian civil war "has become a matter of homeland security" as authorities seek to identify any foreign fighters who might be a threat to the United States, the new homeland security secretary said Friday.
Jeh Johnson, making his first major address after seven weeks on the job, said Syria "was the Number One topic of conversation" in talks this week with his counterparts in six European nations.
The defeat of resurgent Islamic militant groups in western Iraq requires increased support from the United States, according to members of Congress and the Obama administration.
"If we don't want to see Iraq with large swaths of territory under militant control, and we shouldn't, we must be willing to lend an appropriate hand," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce said at a hearing on Wednesday.