The US says it has hit a little-known group called “Khorasan” in Syria, but experts and activists argue it actually struck Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front, which fights alongside Syrian rebels.
In announcing its raids in the northern province of Aleppo on Tuesday, Washington described the group it targeted as Khorasan, a cell of Al-Qaeda veterans planning attacks against the West.
But experts and activists cast doubt on the distinction between Khorasan and Al-Nusra Front, which is Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
“In Syria, no one had ever heard talk of Khorasan until the US media brought it up,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“Rebels, activists and the whole world knows that these positions (hit Tuesday) were Al-Nusra positions, and the fighters killed were Al-Nusra fighters,” added Abdel Rahman, who has tracked the Syrian conflict since it erupted in 2011.
Experts were similarly dubious about the distinction.
“The name refers to Al-Qaeda fighters previously based in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran who have travelled to Syria to fight with… Al-Nusra,” said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.
“They… should not be considered a new or distinct group as such.”
Aron Lund, editor of the Syria in Crisis website run by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, raised similar doubts.
“The fact that news about this Al-Qaeda-run, anti-Western cell linked to Al-Nusra emerged just over a week ago, through US intelligence leaks — well, it’s certainly an interesting coincidence,” he told AFP.
Claims of a distinction are lost of many of Syria’s rebels, who have also often rejected the world community’s designation of Al-Nusra as a “terrorist” group.
When Washington added Al-Nusra to its list of “terrorist” organisations, even the internationally-backed Syrian opposition National Coalition criticised the decision.
On the ground, almost all rebel groups have been willing to cooperate with Al-Nusra, seeing them as distinct from the Islamic State group (IS), which espouses transnational goals and includes many non-Syrians among its ranks.
[The] history of cooperation [between the various crazies in Syria] has left some rebels and activists on the ground suspicious and even angry about the strikes on Al-Qaeda.
Some key members are believed to maintain channels of communication with Al-Nusra, including Qatar, which has helped negotiate the release of prisoners held by the group.
Well, okay … experts and Syrian Islamic jihadis think there’s no distinction between the Khorasans and plain vanilla Al Nusra/Al Qaeda/Free Syrian Army fighters.