November 13, 2014
Last week, the American-led international coalition launched a series of airstrikes against rebel groups in northern Idlib near the Turkish border.
Pro-opposition news agencies reported that the attacks hit Jabhat a-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, and Ahrar a-Sham, “the most popular militia of the rebellion,” said University of Oklahoma professor and Syria expert Joshua Landis last week.
The US military, however, claimed that it struck the Khorasan Group in a statement released Thursday after the attacks.
“US military forces conducted airstrikes last night against five Khorasan Group targets in the vicinity of Sarmada, Syria [Idlib], using bomber, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft.”
The statement went on to describe the Khorasan Group:
“The Khorasan Group is a term used to refer to a network of Nusrah Front and al-Qa’ida core extremists who share a history of training operatives, facilitating fighters and money, and planning attacks against U.S. and Western targets.”
This is the second time that the US has claimed to target the Khorasan Group in Syria – the first time being during the first US attacks in Syria in September.
“For us, the people who live west of Aleppo and in northern Idlib, we have not heard of any battalions called Khorsan,” says a northern Idlib-based activist who goes by the name Hassan Idlibi.
“Khorasan doesn’t exist,” Idlibi tells Syria Direct’s Majdolina al-Jajeh. “The US is targeting Jabhat a-Nusra.”
Q: The United States announced that the airstrikes targeted a group called ‘Khorasan’ that operates in Idlib province. Have you ever heard about this group?
I only heard about it from the US’s statements. Later, I was surprised to learn that a well-known leader of this group is from our village. No one knew about him.
A couple days ago I visited the area targeted by the US-led airstrikes. I know all of the people who lived in the targeted building; most of them were displaced people. Some were family members who are related to Jabhat a-Nusra [members].
When the airstrikes targeted the poultry farm, it was [to attack] Jabhat a-Nusra, not Khorasan, as they said. The poultry farm is owned by my uncles and I know that they have been connected to Jabhat a-Nusra for more than two years.
Q: So are you saying that there isn’t group called Khorasan? Or do mean Khorasan is Jabhat a-Nusra?
US statements say Khorasan is different than Jabhat a-Nusra. For us, the people who live west of Aleppo and in northern Idlib, we have not heard of any battalions called Khorasan.
Q: What do people of Idlib think about Khorasan?
No one knows about it. I am an activist in Idlib province and west Aleppo and I had never heard about it before.
Q: Some people say that Khorasan doesn’t exist and America invented it to target Jabhat a-Nusra sites. What is your opinion about that?
Yes, Khorasan doesn’t exist. The US is targeting Nusra, then announces it will expand the airstrikes on Nusra sites. Why did the name of Khorasan come up? I don’t know.
Q: Are you scared of Jabhat a-Nusra in Idlib?
I am not scared of Jabhat a-Nusra itself, I am scared that the international community does not accept Jabhat a-Nusra and that it does not have a political plan. Clearly, Nusra doesn’t have the academic credentials to participate in the political scene. Therefore, if Nusra is in control, we will live under its power and this is will be rejected internationally and politically.
Q: How does Nusra treat civilians living in the areas under its control?
It treats people well and enjoys popular support. Nusra administers the courts that people go to in order to solve their problems. Recently it made a mistake by interfering with the local councils in certain areas. When we went to them to discuss their mistakes, they admitted their faults and began to fix their mistakes. Lately, they stood up for the local councils and gave them land to operate in. Jabhat a-Nusra even allowed us to establish a provincial council.
Q: What is your personal opinion about the airstrikes against Jabhat a-Nusra?
Bashar Assad would attack an entire neighborhood to get one person, the US-led coalition uses the same strategy.
The targeted sites in Harem and Sarmada [northern Idlib] caused many injuries among civilians.
For example, there was a two-floor building containing four apartments. One apartment was occupied by a Nusra member along with his family. The coalition targeted the building and killed most of the people living in the building to kill the Nusra fighter. This building is about 150 meters from my house.
We know that this Nusra fighter rented the house for his family. It was not a military site. Most of the people in the building were killed, it was a miracle that some escaped.
Q: You mentioned that Jabhat a-Nusra enjoys popular support. Do you think that US-led coalition is targeting civilians to destroy this popular support?
No, this is not the point. The US-led airstrikes have detailed information about prominent leaders in certain places and they want to attack them regardless of the price.
After the bombardment, we learned that the person who lived in the targeted house in the neighborhood is a sniper and rated as the sixth in the world. He is originally from Turkey.
Q: Are the people with or against the airstrikes?
US-led coalition did not give anything to the people. When people see the international airstrikes against the rebels, whether it’s Jabhat a-Nusra or the FSA, and that the coalition lets Assad’s forces, Hezbollah and Iraqi militias go free, then the coalition did not come to help the people.
It actually came to serve its own interests and target Islamists on one side and sell weapons to the other. People see that the US-led coalition supports Bashar Assad, and does not help them.