(CNSNews.com) – While U.S.-led airstrikes on terrorists in Syria and Iraq are largely targeting the group calling itself Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), the leader of al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate sent a message to the West Sunday: Don’t discount us.
Al-Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani said in an audio message that his group would use “all possible means” to fight back against what he described – despite the involvement of several Sunni Arab states – as a “Crusader alliance.” The Associated Press first reported on the new message.
Apart from the opening salvo in Syria – on the night of September 22, when U.S. planes carried out eight attacks against al-Nusra/al-Qaeda elements dubbed the “Khorasan group” – all of the around 50 coalition airstrikes in Syria (like all of the U.S. strikes in Iraq since August 8) have targeted ISIS.
Al-Nusra/al-Qaeda split from ISIS in a power-struggle between al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who now calls himself “Caliph Ibrahim” and wants Muslims everywhere to swear loyalty to him.
Despite the rivalry between them, Golani in his message sounded a similar warning about the consequences of the air attacks for Westerners back home as ISIS has.
“This is what will cause the battle to be transported to the hearts of your own homes,” Golani said, “because Muslims will not stand idly by and watch Muslims be bombed and killed in their countries, while you are safe in your countries. The price of war will not be paid by your leaders alone. You will pay the biggest price.”
Al-Nusra and ISIS – the latter a new name for al-Qaeda in Iraq – both emerged in the tumult of the broad rebellion against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and while toppling the regime remains a goal they share with other rebel groups they are also both committed to a rigid and violent Islamist ideology.
ISIS has targeted both the regime and other rebel groups, which is why the Obama administration’s anti-ISIS strategy includes strengthening mainstream rebel groups to better enable them to fight the terrorists.
Al-Nusra, on the other hand, has tended to fight alongside other rebel groups against the regime, raising concerns that any foreign-supplied weaponry flowing to “vetted, moderate” rebels may end up in the hands of al-Nusra – that is, al-Qaeda, America’s sworn foe.
Adding to the complexities, since al-Nusra is among the more effective groups fighting Assad other rebels are not happy about the U.S. targeting the group, fearing that doing so will weaken the rebellion and strengthen a regime already benefiting from foreign airstrikes against ISIS.
Meanwhile there are more signs that some al-Nusra fighters are crossing over to ISIS, despite the animosity between the leadership of the two terrorist groups. On Friday the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent monitoring body, reported that at least 41 al-Nusra operatives had joined ISIS in the Aleppo region following the launching of coalition airstrikes almost a week ago.
Earlier, after President Obama on September 10 first announced that he will extend the airstrike campaign from Iraq into Syria, almost 150 members of al-Nusra and other Islamist rebel groups joined ISIS, the Observatory said.