A new affiliate of al-Qaida could emerge as foreign fighters flock to Syria to support militants, who are coming to dominate the opposition, officials said.
Jihadist groups in Syria now include more than 6,000 foreigners, who are streaming into the country at a greater rate than they did in Iraq at the height of insurgency coalition troops, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Many of the militants have joined the Nusra Front, an extremist group that is part of the opposition.
Others are joining an even more extreme group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, comprised of fighters from Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt and the West. The umbrella group also includes al-Qaida in Iraq members, the Times said.
Juan Zarate, a former senior counterterrorism official in the George W. Bush administration, said a new affiliate of al-Qaida could be forming from those groups.
He said Syria is in the center of what he describes as an arc of instability stretching from Iran through North Africa.
"In that zone, you may have the regeneration and resurrection of a new brand of al-Qaida," Zarate said.
Syria could supplant Pakistan as the primary haven for al-Qaida should Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime fall and the badly fractured opposition -- comprised of 1,200 groups -- continue to succumb to jihadists, the Times said.