Assad: US supporting al-Qaida in Syrian civil war

2013-04-18T00:00:00Z Assad: US supporting al-Qaida in Syrian civil warThe Associated Press The Associated Press
April 18, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Syria's president accused the West on Wednesday of backing al-Qaida in his country's civil war, warning it will pay a price "in the heart" of Europe and the United States as the terror network becomes emboldened.

Bashar Assad also lashed out at Jordan for allowing "thousands" of fighters to enter Syria through its borders and warned that the "fire will not stop at Syria's border."

A rare TV interview with the government-run Al-Ikhbariya channel marking Syria's independence day came as the embattled president's military is fighting to reverse rebel advances, with a rocket attack killing at least 12 people in a central village on Wednesday.

"Just as the West financed al-Qaida in Afghanistan in its beginnings, and later paid a heavy price, today it is supporting it in Syria, Libya and other places and will pay the price later in the heart of Europe and the United States," Assad said.

He offered no evidence to back his charge that the U.S. was now backing the international terror group responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Extremist groups such as the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra are gaining ground in Syria's two-year civil war. Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, has emerged as the most effective force among the mosaic of rebel units fighting to topple Assad.

Last week, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad al-Gonali pledged allegiance to al-Qaida's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Washington has designated Jabhat al-Nusra a terrorist organization over its links with al-Qaida. The Obama administration opposes directly arming Syrian opposition fighters, in part out of fear that the weapons could fall into the hands of such extremists.

Earlier this year, the U.S. announced a $60 million nonlethal assistance package for Syria that includes meals and medical supplies for the armed opposition.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized an upcoming meeting of the Friends of Syria group in Istanbul - which brings together Western and Arab supporters of the Syrian opposition - and said efforts to isolate Assad and to arm the opposition were strengthening Islamic militants.

"If the priority is peace, changes and democratic reforms, it's necessary to force the warring parties to sit down for talks. If Assad's departure is the priority, the cost of such geopolitical approach will be more casualties," Lavrov said.

"If we allow those making the emphasis on (a) military solution to control the situation, those horrors … will multiply and the terrorists' influence in the region will grow," he added.

On Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Congress that the Pentagon is sending about 200 soldiers from a U.S. Army headquarters unit to Jordan to assist efforts to contain violence along the Syrian border and plan for any operations needed to ensure the safety of chemical weapons in Syria.

The 1st Armored Division troops will replace a similar number of U.S. forces that have been in Jordan for some months. They will include specialists in intelligence, logistics and operations. Sending a cohesive headquarters unit will enhance the troops' ability to respond to any security needs.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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