In an hour long interview with reporters, Al-Nusra Front leader, Abu Mohammad al-Joulani has made many incorrect and wild statements. The Deir ez-Zor local had risen through the ranks of Al-Qaeda in Iraq during its invasion by US-led forces in 2003. With the outbreak of the Syrian War, he established Al-Nusra as the Syrian franchise of Al-Qaeda. He was a good friend of ISIS leader al-Baghdadi before the two fell apart and ISIS left the Al-Qaeda family.
In recent times in northern Syria, with open support from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, al-Nusra has become the dominant force of the Army of Conquest, a coalition of terrorist groups. This coalition has also had backing from Western commentators as a potential force to replace Assad’s government and defeat ISIS whilst ignoring the Al-Qaeda element.
Al-Joulani claimed that the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) were only in control of 10% of Syria’s territory, ignoring the fact that the SAA are in control of most of Syria’s major cities, including Damascus, Tartus, Latakia, Homs and huge proportions of Hama and Aleppo. He also went on to claim that with the imminent defeat of Assad’s government, a truce will be in place between all opposition groups.
He added that: “the terrorist conference in Riyadh was a big betrayal as many of those who died, died fighting for implementation of Islamic governance.” This is evident with strict Shariah Law introduced to Northern Aleppo province recently. He also claimed that all present in Riyadh hold no influence as they have no control of ground operations in Syria.
He claimed that Islamist forces are advancing and not retreating. He also claimed that Assad no longer has an army and are only factions in areas. This statement is devoid of all reality in Syria with the recent string of success in Aleppo provinces, Homs provinces, Latakia province and in Da’ara, the supposed home of the revolution. He makes no mention on the significance of one of two border crossings with Jordan on the verge of being in SAA hands, and large portions of the Latakia-Turkey border returning to government control.
Joulani claimed that Islamist forces had a larger armoury than the SAA which is a real prospect considering the amount of Saudi, Qatari, Turkish, American and European weapons sent to the Free Syrian Army (FSA) ending up in the hands of Islamist forces. On note about the FSA, he also acknowledges that they effectively do not exist anymore, and all have pledged loyalty to Islamist groups such as Al-Nusra and ISIS.
He urges to the legitimate Syrian government that only a truce can work in their favour. He states: “We didn’t accept Ghouta ceasefire because of its symbolic resistance whilst Zabadani was accepted because it is small and surrounded” by Hezbollah forces.
His most ludicrous claim is that the Al-Nusra Front are occupying up to 80% of Syria. By his mathematics, if Al-Nusra controls 80% and the SAA 10%, that leaves only a further 10% of Syria occupied by Kurdish groups, ISIS forces and other militant groups.
Although acknowledging that government forces have been successful in its southern Aleppo push, he makes the claim without a shred of evidence that up to 500 government forces, Syrian militias, Hezbollah, Iranian militias and Iraqi militias have died.
On the discussion of Russia, he says that unlike Iran who have socio-political aims in Syria, Russia just merely wants to regain its international influence it lost during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979-89. He says Russia has learned from that failed experience and has set out cautious and confined objectives.
Despite significant gains by the SAA in Da’ara, Joulani in almost denial states that the only threat to Al-Nusra in the south of Syria is ISIS.
He does correctly assess that Turkey is not worried about the ISIS threat but their primary concern is destroying Kurdish forces as its a national problem for the Republic. He says Erdogan is trying to prevent the establishment of a Kurdistan.
He however claims that Al-Nusra withdrew from northern Aleppo as a Shariah matter, and allowed Turkish linked groups to replace them. This completely ignores the fact that the Turkish linked groups are the Army of Conquest, in which it is a part the coalition. He says they now control 4km of the northern Aleppo front line and not the 40km it use to. He does not explain that the rest of the front line is now controlled by groups in a coalition with Al-Nusra and are therefore allied.
With talking about Lebanon, he said the recent prisoner exchange of Lebanese Armed Forces members for Al-Nusra members was to ensure the safety of his militants and bring aid to camps. He said they have no interest in fighting the Lebanese Armed Forces but rather Hezbollah got them involved.
Joulani claims that Al-Nusra have no cooperation with Qatar, Saudi Arabia or Turkey. This denial does not explain the open Saudi and Turkish support for the Army of Conquest in which they are a part of. Nor does it explain how Al-Nusra operate freely in Turkey to smuggle international fighters, aid and arms.
Joulani also claimed that 80% of the Shariah judges are not aligned with Al-Nusra and are independent. He says not even Al-Nusra emirs are immune to Shariah judges.
He says that the West are against the Salafist ideology, not just the Al-Qaeda organistion. He says their sole purpose is to keep Al-Qaeda links, commit to jihad and implement Shariah.
When asked if they will conduct operations outside of Syria after the war, Joulani concludes the interview abruptly by stating: “our main goal is to fight the Syrian Arab Army and their allies.”
He made no mention about the Captagon addiction prevalent to his fighters. Perhaps it could be conceivable that he was on Captagon during this interview with some of the wild statements he made.
The video of the hour long interview can be found on YouTube.
@sayed_ridha provided the translated incerps from the interview. You can follow him on Twitter.