Day 1,174: Election day in Syria, and further reason for Americans to be very worried


A Syrian man votes in Homs.


Joseph Eid

Syria is expected to re-elect Bashar al-Assad today. Both the opposition and Western governments have called the election a sham.

Meanwhile, further evidence to support the notion that Americans should be extremely worried about the Syria conflict: The Washington Post published a disturbing report last night on the American citizen who recently carried out a suicide bombing for the opposition in Syria. His family believed him to be in Jordan, based on "cryptic emails" he had sent suggesting that he was "possibly caring for the wounded but far from the fight." Here's the crucial section of the report:

American counterterrorism agencies were only slightly better informed. U.S. officials said they knew Abusalha had crossed into Syria, but they had scant intelligence on his activities there or associations with an al-Qaeda affiliate until he appeared last week in an online martyrdom video.

The inability to track Abusalha reflects what U.S. officials describe as a worrisome blind spot for intelligence agencies struggling to monitor a surging flow of foreign fighters into and often out of a conflict dominated by Islamist militants.

U.S. officials said that dozens of fighters from the United States, and much larger numbers from Europe and the Middle East, all but disappear from view once they are inside Syria’s borders.

So why should the U.S.'s inability to track its citizens in Syria concern us? Mostly because of what might happen when those citizens return to the States. Though there are certainly moderate groups fighting against Bashar al-Assad's regime, it's the jihadists recruiting abroad who worry Western governments: recruits may then be radicalized in Syria — or, if they were pretty extreme to begin with, receive practical training — and then return as terror threats to their home countries.

This is not news to those who have been following the conflict, but the reports are getting more and more pessimistic by the day.

Time today has a piece looking at a report by the Soufan Group, which argues that the civil war in Syria may become "an even more dangerous incubator for terrorism" than the conflict with Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s. You've heard of that 1980s conflict. It's the one where the U.S. gave manpads to the mujahideen out of which the Taliban emerged — the Taliban who then gave Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda a home prior to the September 11 attacks.

In any event, Syria is voting today. An excellent source of updates is the Twitter feed of Sam Dagher, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal who, unusually for journalists covering the conflict at present (due to the danger), is in Damascus itself for the election.

The conflict continues.