An al Qaida-linked Syrian group Friday admitted that it had abducted a group of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels sent into the country to help with the ongoing international military effort to degrade the Islamic State.
In an unusual statement by the Nusra Front, which on Thursday denied that it had detained Nadim al Hassan and several of his men after they entered Syria from Turkey, the group reversed course and admitted kidnapping the men.
By Friday afternoon, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights described a series of clashes between Hassan’s men, known as the 30th Division, and the Nusra militants, with reports of deaths on both sides. Witnesses also said unknown aircraft, widely believed to be from the American-led air coalition, were supporting the moderate rebels in their fight against Nusra.
Hassan and his men appear to have been seized from outside the Syrian city of Azaz after a lunch meeting with other rebels on Wednesday, just days after American-led warplanes targeted some Nusra positions and a week after the U.S. announced that a top Nusra official with close links to al Qaida had been killed in a drone strike in northern Syria.
“We warn soldiers of (Division 30) against proceeding in the American project,” the Nusra Front said in a statement distributed online. “We, and the Sunni people in Syria, will not allow their sacrifices to be offered on a golden platter to the American side.”
The Nusra statement went on to accuse the men of the 30th of having collaborated with the Americans on Friday’s airstrikes, which the Nusra statement said had “left a number of martyrs and wounded in our ranks.”
The Nusra Front has maintained a large degree of popularity with the Syrian people for its efforts to avoid infighting with other rebel groups and its focus on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The group has targeted rebel groups with close ties to the Americans in the past, including crushing a U.S.-equipped brigade, Harakat Hazem, last year as well as defeating the mostly secular Syrian Revolutionary Front. In both cases the Nusra leadership described the groups as American agents that threatened Nusra’s deeply conservative jihadist ideology.
The statement by the Nusra Front was rather detailed, arguing that the arrival of U.S.-backed groups on the battlefield posed a threat to the revolution.
“A few days ago the first of these groups entered – under the name of the Brigade of the 30th Infantry – into Syria after completing the training program and graduating to be the core of a so-called ‘national army,’” said the statement. “(Thus) it was the incumbent on the Al-Nusra Front to investigate and take caution of such projects, so we arrested a number of soldiers that band.”
The statement was reasonably conciliatory, arguing that the men detained would be taught that all Syrian revolutionaries must work together and not engage in communication with either the Syrian regime or American agents.