Al Qaeda is moving from Iraq to Syria, where the government is carrying out a bloody crackdown on an uprising, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in an interview published on Friday.
"Al Qaeda has started migrating from Iraq to Syria, and maybe it will migrate from Syria to another country, to Libya or to Egypt or to any region where the regime is unstable and out of control," Maliki said in an interview with Saudi daily Okaz.
"Yesterday, Syria was considering itself outside the circle of the terrorism problem, and today, it is in the heart of the terrorism problem," Maliki said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been carrying out a bloody crackdown on an uprising against his rule since March 2011, in which more than 7,500 people have died, according to the UN.
Iraq's deputy interior minister told AFP last month that jihadists were moving from Iraq to Syria and arms were being smuggled across the border to opponents of Assad's regime, but Maliki's remarks are the first time an Iraqi official has said specifically that al Qaeda is moving from Iraq to Syria.
Al Qaeda's front organisation here, the Islamic State of Iraq, has waged a bloody campaign of attacks that has spanned years, especially targeting members of Iraq's Shiite majority and security forces.
Excerpts of the interview were released by Maliki's office on Tuesday, including one in which he said that "Iraq backs change in Syria."
"Change is necessary. The situation will not be stable without change."
Maliki did not elaborate on what kind of change he wished to see, but said Syrians "must receive more freedom, and form a national unity government as a first step, and free elections should be held under Arab and UN supervision."