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Chief of Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate pledges no attacks on the West

'Our mission in Syria is the downfall of the regime, its symbols, and its allies, like Hizbollah,' Abu Mohamed Al Jolani, the head of the Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda, Jabhat Al Nusra, told Al Jazeera TV.

BEIRUT // Al Qaeda’s Syria affiliate would not use Syria as a launching pad for attacks on the West, its chief said in a wide-ranging televised interview late Wednesday.

Without showing his face, Abu Mohamed Al Jolani said his group, Jabhat Al Nusra, would protect Syrian minorities that renounced the regime.

The interview was Jolani’s second with Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV since 2013. The interviewer, Ahmad Mansur, said it was broadcast “from liberated lands in Syria.”

Jolani was seen in a black shawl, a plaid shirt and gesturing hands.

“The instructions that we have are not to use Al Sham as a base to launch attacks on the West or Europe, so as not to muddy the current war,” Jolani said.

“Our mission in Syria is the downfall of the regime, its symbols, and its allies, like Hizbollah,” Jolani said, referring to the powerful Shiite movement fighting alongside the Bashar Al Assad regime.

But if the United States kept attacking them, he said, “all options are open. Anyone has the right to self-defence.”

Jolani also denied the existence of the Khorasan group which the US had said was an offshoot of Al Qaeda that was plotting attacks against the US.

Nevertheless, he criticised the US for its air raids against Al Nusra in Syria and accused it of coordinating with the Assad regime on the use of air space.

“America is propping up the regime,” Jolani charged.

Al Nusra and its rival the ISIL group have been designated as terrorist organisations by the US since the end of 2012.

Since September, a US-led international coalition has been raiding militant positions in Syria, although most strikes have targeted ISIL.

In recent months, Al Nusra has led a rebel coalition in a series of key victories in Syria’s northwest Idlib, including the provincial capital and a large military base.

The gains have opened the road for a potential militant advance on Latakia and Tartus, coastal provinces that are home to Syrian minorities including Christians and Alawites, the offshoot of Shiite Islam to which the Assad clan belongs.

Extremist groups in Syria, including Al Nusra and ISIL, have been accused of targeting these minority communities.

But Al Nusra’s chief tried to play down those fears, saying his group “only fights those who fight us”.

“If the Alawites leave their religion and leave Bashar Al Assad, we will protect them,” Jolani said.

He said Christians living under the rule of Al Nusra were living in peace.

Jolani promised defeat for Lebanese movement Hizbollah, which has significantly bolstered the Assad regime, in the mountainous border region between Syria and Lebanon.

“Hizbollah knew the ugliness of the Syrian regime. It knew its fate was directly linked to Bashar’s fate,” Jolani warned.

“Qalamoun will be an important gateway for Damascus when the battle for the capital begins,” he added.

“As soon as Bashar is defeated, it will be the end for Hezbollah.”

Much like his interview in 2013, Jolani said the end of the Assad regime was near.

“I assure you, the fall of Bashar is not far away,” he said. “I do not want to project much optimism, but there are very positive signs.”

He rejected a political end to the conflict, saying that any political agreement “reached in the halls of Washington ... would cost the blood of the Syrian people”.

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* Agence France-Presse

Updated: May 28, 2015 04:00 AM

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