The nation's top intelligence adviser told Congress on Thursday that Al Qaeda "is extending its reach into Syria" -- possibly with Iran's help.
In a rare public admission, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Al Qaeda and the Iranian regime have a "shotgun marriage, or marriage of convenience." More significantly, given the series of attacks this week linked to Iran, Clapper said Tehran appears to see Al Qaeda as an insurance policy -- a "surrogate or proxy" -- against future Western aggression.
This public confirmation comes as U.S. officials investigate the release of five Al Qaeda members after "years of house arrest" in Iran. The men include Saif al-Adel, who was tipped as the likely replacement for Usama bin Laden.
The release of Al Qaeda leaders is not confined to Iran. U.S. officials are also investigating whether the Syrians released Abu Musab al-Suri, seen as one of the terror network's most important strategists. Al-Suri was captured in Pakistan 2005 and was in CIA custody until he was sent back to Syria as part of the controversial rendition program. Until recently, US officials were confident he would not be released by the Syrian government.
Clapper also confirmed that U.S. officials believe an Al Qaeda affiliate was responsible for a series of blast in Syria because the car bombs "bore the earmarks" of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The affiliate, written off by some members of the U.S. intelligence community, has made a comeback according to Clapper.