Syria’s “Arab Spring,” long delayed by barbaric repression, is now rapidly deteriorating into a bloody civil war.

The Bashar al-Assad regime’s stubborn rejection of political compromise and its brutal suppression of the opposition has led increasing numbers of Syrians to take up arms against the regime. They have been joined by a small but growing stream of foreign Islamist militants who have flocked to Syria like moths to a flame.

The Assad regime has been targeted by a series of suicide bombings carried out by the Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant, which emerged in February and claims that its attacks are meant to avenge Sunni Muslims killed by the Alawite-dominated regime. Al-Nusra is believed to be a front for Al-Qaeda’s Iraq branch, which is expanding its operations into Syria. There are also rumors that other Al-Qaeda affiliates are seeking to expand their operations in Syria.

The Assad regime has also imported Hezbollah militants to help crush the opposition. Based in Lebanon, the Shia Islamist terrorist group has dispatched fighters to support Assad’s military campaign against the Syrian opposition in areas near the Lebanese border. These Lebanese surrogates are reportedly sometimes accompanied by Iranians, who also serve as technical advisers in training Syria’s security services to monitor communications and ferret out opposition leaders.

The intensifying conflict and growing activity of Islamist extremists has prompted the U.S. and other countries to make contingency plans to seize Syria’s huge stockpiles of chemical weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists if the regime collapses. U.S. intelligence agencies are monitoring chemical weapons production and storage sites, which reportedly remain heavily guarded by the regime. But if the Assad regime disintegrates, U.S. forces may be called in to keep the chemical genie bottled up.

See also: Syrian WMD: Counter-Proliferation Contingency Planning Needed.