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UK: Al-Qaeda groups in Syria tried to obtain chemical weapons

Prime Minister Cameron says Britain shares US assessment of Assad’s sarin gas use

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at the G8 UK Innovation Conference at the Siemens Crystal Building in London, Friday June 14, 2013. As part of UK's G8 Presidency, the G8 Innovation Conference brings together 300 leading international entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, designers and policy makers. (photo credit: AP/Facundo Arrizabalaga)
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks at the G8 UK Innovation Conference at the Siemens Crystal Building in London, Friday June 14, 2013. As part of UK's G8 Presidency, the G8 Innovation Conference brings together 300 leading international entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, designers and policy makers. (photo credit: AP/Facundo Arrizabalaga)

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday that Britain believes al-Qaeda-linked groups in and around Syria have tried to acquire chemical weapons for use there.

The White House has authorized military aid to Syrian rebels in response to what it says is firmer evidence of chemical weapons use by President Bashar Assad’s regime, and says it does not see any evidence that rebel forces have launched attacks using deadly agents. But Cameron said that Britain believes al-Qaeda-linked groups have tried to get them.

“We haven’t seen any credible reporting of chemical weapons use by the Syrian opposition,” Cameron said. “However, we assess that elements affiliated to al-Qaeda in the region have attempted to acquire chemical weapons for probable use in Syria.”

He did not give any evidence to back his claim.

The West, particularly the US, had been reluctant to arm the rebels, amid concerns such weapons will fall into the hands of Islamic militants with ties to the al-Qaeda network.

Cameron said that the UK welcomed and agreed with the US assessment that chemical weapons, including sarin gas, have been used by Assad’s regime.

There is evidence of “multiple attacks” using such weapons in Syria, and Britain believed that such use was “sanctioned and ordered by” Assad’s regime, Cameron said.

The prime minister reiterated that the UK has not yet made a decision to arm Syrian rebels, but he stressed the importance of engaging with the opposition there.

“Of course, there are concerns about some of the opposition, but my argument is this: if we don’t engage with elements of the opposition and encourage those that do have a positive, pluralistic and democratic view about the future of Syria, we won’t be able to influence the shape of that opposition,” he said.

The UK and France both presented evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria to the United Nations, urging that investigators be allowed unfettered access to sites on the ground.

Hague said in a statement Friday that the crisis in Syria demands a strong and coordinated response, adding that the international community must “be prepared to do more.”

The UN on Thursday raised the overall death toll in Syria’s civil war to nearly 93,000.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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