By Jill Dougherty, reporting from Aspen, Colorado
U.S. officials and experts on Al Qaeda agree that al Qaeda has a presence among the opposition in Syria. But how strong are they? How deeply do they influencet the opposition?
At the Aspen Security Forum all you have to do to find an opinion on that is stand under the aspen trees and wait for an expert to saunter by.
I button-holed Richard Barrett, coordinator of a New-York-based team appointed to advise the Security Council on the effective development and implementation of sanctions aimed at al Qaeda and the Taliban.
“There’s no doubt at all that some of the people who refer to themselves as al Qaeda from Iraq have gone into Syria. I think that’s absolutely without doubt," Barrett tells me.
“The question really is – are those people linked up with the Free Syrian Army and other oppositionists, other rebels? And that, I think is much more doubtful," he says. "I think the Free Syrian Army and the main bulk of the rebels in Syria are still very much opposed to allowing al Qaeda a proper foothold.”
"I don’t think al Qaeda has any natural constituency in Syria. And I think it became incredibly unpopular in Iraq for promoting this sort of sectarian conflict which I think is the last thing the Syrians want."
But that resistance won't last forever, Barrett warns.
"But, of course, if it moves toward that, with Allawites and Christians and whatever on one side and Sunnis on the other side, then al Qaeda will find a lot of people to exploit, I’m sure, and will be able to build that.”