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Islamic militants head to Syria to aid rebels

ISLAMABAD -- Suleman spent years targeting minority Shia Muslims at home as a member of one Pakistan's most feared militant groups. Now he is on his way to a new sectarian battleground, Syria, where he plans to join Sunni rebels battling President Bashar Assad's regime.

It is a fight he believes will boost his reward in heaven.

The short and stocky Pakistani, who identified himself only by first name for fear of being targeted by authorities, is one of an increasing number of militants who have left for Syria in recent months. The fighters have contributed to a growing presence of Islamic extremists and have complicated U.S. efforts to help the rebels.

Many fighters like Suleman believe they must help Syria's Sunni majority defeat Assad's Alawite regime, an offshoot of the Shia sect. Radical Sunnis view Shia as heretics.

The presence of Islamic extremists in Syria looms large over U.S. efforts to help the rebels, especially when it comes to providing weapons that could end up in the hands of America's enemies. The extremists have also sparked infighting with more secular rebels concerned about the increasing power of the Islamists.

Most of the foreign fighters in Syria are from Arab countries, including al-Qaida militants from Iraq on the rebel side and Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon on the regime's side. The flow of militants from Pakistan adds a new element to that mix.

The fighters fall mainly into two categories. One includes foreign combatants from places like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and probably the Middle East who came to Pakistan's tribal region to fight U.S.-led forces in neighboring Afghanistan and are now heading to Syria because they view it as the most pressing battle, said the Pakistani intelligence officials. -- AP

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