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.