Syrian rebels defy US and pledge allegiance to jihadi group
Telegraph, Dec 10 2012
A total of 29 opposition groups, including fighting “brigades” and civilian committees, have signed a petition calling for mass demonstrations in support of Jabhat al-Nusra. The petition is promoting the slogan “No to US intervention, for we are all Jabhat al-Nusra” and urges supporters to “raise the Jabhat al-Nusra flag” as a “thank you.” A statement widely circulated on Syrian opposition Facebook pages says:
These are the men for the people of Syria, these are the heroes who belong to us in religion, in blood and in revolution.
Jabhat al-Nusra made its mark early this year with a string of suicide bombings, a tactic it continues to use. Aided by fighters from abroad and Syrians who have returned from other wars in the Middle East, it has also led battles for a number of military bases and has secured a string of recent victories. Along with allied jihadist groups, it captured the Sheikh Suleiman base west of Aleppo yesterday morning, and has also dented the infrastructure of the regime in Damascus. Although Jabhat al-Nusra remains separate from the Free Syrian Army, many FSA leaders now recognise its strength and order their forces to cooperate with it. The decision to blacklist the group, which is due to be announced today, raises the prospect of a drawn-out anti-US insurgency if and when the rebels succeed in forcing out Assad. The designation prohibits USAians from having any financial dealings with the group and freezes its assets in the US. Washington is taking the step as part of a new strategy to impose “shape” on the opposition it hopes will replace Assad. Even mainstream opposition activists expressed anger at what they claimed was the US’s last-minute attempt to “muscle in on their revolution.” Mulham Jundi, who works with the opposition charity Watan Syria, said:
It is terrible timing on the part of the US. By calling Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists, the US is legitimising the Syrian regime’s bombardment of cities like Aleppo. Now the government can say it is attacking terrorists.
The rise of Jabhat al-Nusra represents the US’s worst fear. They refused to arm the rebels earlier in the conflict to avoid weapons falling into the hands of jihadists, only to find that in their absence, jihadi groups well-funded by supporters in the Gulf have risen to prominence. The West attempted to rectify this at the weekend by backing the formation of a new FSA command structure at a meeting in Turkey. Its new leadership, which sidelines former commanders such as Gen Mustafa al-Sheikh and Col Riad al-Assad, includes senior figures without a regime background. Many are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or even more radical Salafi movements, but are thought to be men with whom the West can “do business.” The command is seen as a prospective military wing of the new Syrian National Coalition, formed last month also under Western auspices in Qatar. EU leaders including UK Foreign Secretary Hague met the heads of the coalition in Brussels yesterday, having already recognised it as “the legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people.” Opposition fighters inside Syria told the Daily Telegraph that the US announcement was too little too late, and that any attempts by the West to intervene in Syria would be rejected. Ous al-Arabi, a spokesman of the Deir al-Zour Revolutionary council, said:
We don’t support the new FSA military command. For Deir al-Zour province they have chosen people who are not representative. Jabhat al-Nusra is the strongest group here and they ignored that. The people are not going to accept intervention by the West now. You were watching us die, and now that we close to victory you want to intervene? You are not welcome.