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Al Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Says Goal Is To Bring Down Assad Regime, But Doesn't Rule Out Retaliation on West

The head of Nusra Front also said the so-called Khorasan group, allegedly comprised of senior al Qaida members, was pure fiction.

by VICE News
May 28 2015, 11:25pm

Photo via AP

The head of the Nusra Front, the al Qaeda-affiliated group in Syria, told Al-Jazeera Television Network that the group's primary target is the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.  

But while the group's aim is not to target the West and Europe, if the US-led coalition airstrikes persist, "then the alternatives are open and it is the right of any human being to defend himself," Abu Muhammed al-Golani told Al Jazeera television in an interview.

Al-Golani said that al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri had instructed the Nusra Front that its "aim is to bring down the regime and its allies, I mean Hezbollah."

"Directions we have received until now are not to target the West and America," he added.

Related: Videos Show Wild Celebration by Syrian Rebels After Takeover of City of Idlib

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The Nusra Front leader, whose face was not shown during the interview, also denied the existence of the so-called Khorasan group. "There is nothing called Khorasan group," said al-Golani. "We heard this from the Americans only." 

The Khorasan group first came to public attention last September when the US intelligence community announced it had been monitoring the group allegedly comprised of senior al Qaeda members, who were supposedly operating in conjunction with the Nusra Front.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said at the time that "in terms of threat to the homeland, Khorasan may pose as much of a danger as ISIS," referring to the Islamic State, which has waged a bloody insurgency across Iraq and Syria since last summer.

Nusra Front is a leading insurgent group in the Syrian Islamist coalition called Jaysh al Fateh. The coalition took the key Syrian city Idlib from forces loyal to Assad in March, and have since continued to fight back government forces to take other areas across Idlib province.

The Jaysh al Fateh coalition, consisting of seven members, including the groups Ahrar al Sham and Jund al Aqsa, is supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and is not aligned with the Islamic State. On Thursday, the AP reported that the coalition captured the northern town of Ariha in Idlib province after government forces withdrew.

VICE News' Olivia Becker and the Associated Press contributed to this report.