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Militants help seize Syrian defense base

AP
In this Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 photo, a Syrian youth holds a child wounded by Syrian Army shelling near Dar al-Shifa hospital in Aleppo, Syria. (AP Photo/ Manu Brabo)

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By The Associated Press
Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 6:09 p.m.
 

Fighters from a shadowy militant group with suspected links to al-Qaida joined Syrian rebels in seizing a government missile defense base in northern Syria on Friday, according to activists and amateur video.

It was unclear if the rebels were able to hold the base after the attack, and analysts questioned whether they would be able to make use of any of the missiles they may have spirited away.

Nevertheless, the assault underscored fears of advanced weaponry falling into the hands of extremists playing an increasingly large role in Syria's civil war.

Videos purportedly shot inside the air defense base and posted online stated that the extremist group, Jabhat al-Nusra, participated in the overnight battle near the village of al-Taaneh, three miles east of the country's largest city, Aleppo. The videos show dozens of fighters inside the base near a radar tower, along with rows of large missiles, some on trucks.

A report by a correspondent with the Arabic satellite network Al-Jazeera who visited the base Friday said Jabhat al-Nusra took the lead in the attack, killing three guards and taking others prisoner before seizing the base. The report showed a number of missiles and charred buildings, as well as fighters wearing masks.

Despite Western opposition to President Bashar Assad's regime, the United States and other countries have cited the presence of extremists among the rebels as a reason not to supply the Syrian insurgents with weapons. They have repeatedly cited concerns of heavy weaponry falling into wrong hands.

Rebel leaders argue that arms shortages mean they'll take aid from whoever offers it, regardless of their ideology.

The capture of the base also plays into fears about extremists acquiring Syria's chemical and biological weapons — particularly if the Assad regime collapses and loses control of them.

Neighboring Jordan's King Abdullah II fears such weapons could go to al-Qaida or other militants, primarily the Iranian-allied Lebanese Hezbollah. The United States has sent about 150 troops to Jordan, largely Army special forces, to bolster the kingdom's military capabilities in the event Syria's civil war escalates.

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