Free Syrian Army commander praises Al Nusrah Front as ‘brothers’

Colonel Riyad al Assad, the founder of the Free Syrian Army and one of its top commanders, described the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, as “our brothers in Islam,” and commended the terror group for its prowess on the battlefield. The US government is currently supporting the Free Syrian Army with nonlethal military aid despite the fact that the Free Syrian Army backs the Al Nusrah Front and fights alongside it on the battlefield.

Riyad made the comments in an undated interview that was uploaded on YouTube on March 26. A transcript of the interview was obtained by The Long War Journal. Riyad was wounded last week in a bombing in Deir al Zour, a contested city on the Euphrates River in eastern Syria that is poised to fall under the control of the Al Nusrah Front.

When asked by the interviewer about his opinion of the Al Nusrah Front, he said the group’s “members are our brothers and they are Sunnis fighting against the regime.”

“They are our brothers in Islam. It is not our fault that Sunnis are fighting against the regime,” he continued.

Riyad then indicated that the Free Syrian Army provided direct support to the Al Nusrah Front.

“We have offered martyrs and other things and, accordingly, nobody should blame us for this matter,” he said. “The Al Nusrah Front has proved that it is proficient in fighting and has treated the people very nicely.”

Riyad then that said the Al Nusrah Front “thus far have not done anything wrong to anybody,” disregarding the facts that the group has executed suicide attacks that have killed civilians and enforces a harsh form of sharia, or Islamic law, in areas under its control.

“They might have some ideological thoughts over which we differ, but the majority of the people are looking with admiration toward the Al Nusrah Front ,” he continued.

Riyad’s statements are similar to those of Ahmed Moaz al Khatib, the head of the Syrian Opposition Coalition. Just one day after the US added the Al Nusrah Front to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations, al Khatib urged the US to drop the designation, citing “ideological and political differences.”

“The decision to blacklist one of the groups fighting the regime as a terrorist organization must be re-examined,” al Khatib said in December 2012.

“We can have ideological and political differences with certain parties, but the revolutionaries all share the same goal: to overthrow the criminal regime” of President Bashar al-Assad, al Khatib continued.

The US will provide $60 million in direct aid to the Syrian Opposition Coalition and “will look for opportunities to work with the … Supreme Military Council … to provide concrete, nonlethal support to the Free Syrian Army,” the US State Department said on Feb. 28.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • mike merlo says:

    I wonder how Colonel Riyad al Assad fondness(affection?) for Al Nusrah will ‘play out’ when or if hostilities ever cease?

  • Mike Merlo:
    My guess is they won’t be such comfortable bedfellows anymore — and that the war among the “winners” will be even more savage than the one against Assad. There’s no way to sort the factions out and support only “good guys.” U.S. should stay out and try to keep the conflict contained. That will be difficult enough.

  • Retired says:

    Why is the U.S. giving $60 million in direct aid
    to the Syrian Army? Why did the US congress
    let this happen?

  • warlord says:

    This has turned into a Sunni, verses Shia war, which we should have no involvement with. We are broke at home, and, we cannot afford further aid or charity to any nation or religion at war. This is the start of the beginning of a far greater conflict to come between east and west.

  • mike merlo says:

    @Jim Cornelius
    I couldn’t agree with you more. Your “guess” is as good as any other I’ve read or ‘heard’ to date!

  • James says:

    Bill, with all due respects, I believe (and I know for a fact) that all of you that advocate this ‘stay out of it’ approach to Syria are making a huge mistake.
    Of course, it may be too late already.
    Who is going to help the Free Syrian Army? Either it will be US or it will be Al Queda. If a man is laying in the street bleeding to death, he doesn’t care who the ‘Good Samaritan’ is that would come along and save him.
    Is it going to be US, or is it going to be Al Queda?
    Syria shares a border not only with Iraq but also with Israel and Turkey. For those of you that are naive enough to believe that this thing will not spill over and suck US in eventually, you are in dire need of a reality check.
    Of course, it may be too late already. We should have helped the Free Syrian army long ago. If we would have done so in a timely and decisive manner as we should have this thing would have been long over with and the Assad regime would have been history long ago.
    I believe we should have been assisting the Free Syrian Army any way we could (short of direct military involvement). And when I say no direct military involvement I mean to say no ‘boots on the ground’ or no conventional force involvement.
    Of course, now, it may be too late. I hope I’m wrong. They need to honestly assess the situation over there to see just how bad it is. It may be that now, the only way we could ever make a difference is a direct military involvement which I am adamantly against.
    I am one of those people that like to say “we’re in it to win it or just stay the hell out of it.” Well, in this case, (thanks to the Iraq War II) like it or not, we’re already in it.


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