In a new interview with al-Jazeera, al-Qaeda’s Syrian leader Abu Mohammed al-Jolani aimed to present his forces as a moderate alternative to ISIS, promising that an al-Qaeda-ruled Syria would not be used as a launching pad for strikes against the West.
Jolani did however say he wouldn’t rule out strikes against the United States if US warplanes kept hitting al-Qaeda, saying the group has “the right to self-defense.”
Al-Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusra has a growing amount of territory, centering on Idlib, and has been pushing toward the coast as well as south along the border with Lebanon. Much of the territory they aim to control contains members of Syria’s ethnic and religious minorities.
Jolani sought to reassure that his group would not simply wipe out the groups, so long as they were willing to convert to Salafist Islam. Jolani addressed the Alawite minority in particular, saying “if the Alawites leave their religion and leave Bashar al-Assad, we will protect them.”
Bolani also predicted the imminent takeover of Damascus and what remains of Assad government territory, saying the fall of Assad is “not far away.”
The US has sought to portray its attacks against Nusra as not against Nusra as such, but against a faction called Khorasan, which is a term the US invented itself. Bolani today reiterated that Khorasan does not exist, and that the attacks were against his own forces.