Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian affiliate of al Qaeda, has no plans to attack the West, the leader of the militant group said, in an interview with Al Jazeera on Wednesday. In the hour-long interview, the leader, who goes by the name Abu Mohamed al-Jolani, also denied the existence of the mysterious Khorasan Group, which U.S. intelligence officials believe is another group of al Qaeda militants operating in Syria.
“Of course the Americans claim that there are efforts to hit America, that we are a threat to America, but they have not proven anything,” Jolani reportedly said, adding that instructions from al Qaeda’s senior leadership were to focus only on the war against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“The instructions that we have are not to use al-Sham [Syria] as a base to launch attacks on the West or Europe, so as not to muddy the current war,” Jolani told Al Jazeera. “Our mission in Syria is the downfall of the [Assad] regime, its symbols, and its allies, like Hezbollah. … I assure you, Assad's fall won't take a long time.”
However, he added, if the U.S. keeps attacking them, “all options are open, and it is the right of any person to defend himself.”
Since September last year, a U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes on militant positions in Syria. Although airstrikes in the region have mostly targeted the Islamic State group, the al-Nusra group is also believed to have suffered some losses. In recent months, however, al-Nusra has recovered enough to lead a coalition composed of anti-Assad rebels to a series of decisive victories in Syria, including in the city of Idlib, which it successfully seized from pro-government forces in April.
The advance of the Sunni militant group has also raised fears over the fate of the country’s Shiite minorities, including members of the Alawite community who follow the same branch of Shia Islam as Assad. But, Jolani attempted to play down these fears by stating that if the Alawites “leave their religion and leave Bashar al-Assad,” they would be protected.
“Our war is not a matter of revenge against the Alawites despite the fact that in Islam, they are considered to be heretics. … Our faith is based on mercy and our noble traditions. We are not murderers. We will not hurt them or target them,” Jolani said, in the interview. “Our fight is strictly with those who attacked us and murdered our people.”
The interview, which was Jolani’s second with the Qatar-based network since 2013, was reportedly held in Syria.