Al Nusra threatens retaliation against anti-ISIL coalition

The warning came as the US-led coalition widened its airstrikes against ISIL in Syria.

Supporters of Jabhat Al Nusra - Al Qaeda's Syria affiliate - hold placards denouncing President Bashar Al Assad and Arab states that have joined anti-ISIL campaign, as they demonstrate in the northern city of Alepppo on September 24, 2014. Zein Al Rifai/AFP Photo
Powered by automated translation

DAMASCUS // Jabhat Al Nusra, Al Qaeda's Syrian franchise, has threatened reprisals against nations participating in airstrikes against ISIL.

Group spokesman Abu Firas Al Suri said in a video posted online on Saturday the states involved had “committed a horrible act that is going to put them on the list of jihadist targets throughout the world”.

The warning came as the US-led coalition widened its airstrikes against ISIL in Syria, as British warplanes flew their first combat missions against the militants over Iraq.

Washington has been supported in its Syria campaign by Arab allies the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and Qatar.

Seven targets were hit in Syria, the Pentagon said, including at the border crossing into Turkey of the besieged Kurdish town of Ain Al Arab, also known as Kobani.

Muhsin Al Fadhli, a long-standing Al Qaeda operative and alleged leader of Khorasan, was killed in the strikes, according to a militant who fought with the group.

The SITE monitoring group said a series of tweets from the extremist, identified as a member of Al Qaeda, expressed condolences for the deaths of Fadhli and another Khorasan leader, Abu Yusuf Al Turki.

The United States and its coalition partners aim to destroy ISIL, which controls a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria and is locked in a brutal war with Iraqi and Kurdish authorities.

The recent fighting between ISIL and Kurdish forces near Kobani has driven more than 160,000 refugees alone into Turkey.

Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 jets took off from Britain’s RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus for Iraq but returned to base without dropping their laser-guided bombs.

“On this occasion no targets were identified as requiring immediate air attack by our aircraft,” said a defence ministry spokesman in London.

Belgium and Denmark have also approved plans to join France and the Netherlands in targeting ISIL in Iraq, allowing Washington to focus on the more complex operation against its Syria base.

Washington warned that the militants could not be defeated in Syria by air power alone, saying that up to 15,000 “moderate” rebels would need to be trained.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could take a military role in the coalition.

He said the government would go to parliament with a motion on October 2, after which “all the necessary steps” would be taken.

Ankara had previously insisted its hands were tied over dozens of Turkish hostages abducted by ISIL in Iraq, but the hostages have since been released.

Hundreds of Syrian Kurdish refugees, clutching their belongings, crossed the border Saturday to safety.

Turkey’s NTV television reported that shells fired from Syria hit Suruc, about 10 kilometres north of the border, wounding two women.

Senior Syrian Kurdish official Newaf Khalil said that airstrikes hit the ISIL-held town of Ali Shar east of Kobani, destroying several ISIL tanks.

Coalition aircraft also pounded the city of Raqqa, an ISIL stronghold.

“At least 31 explosions were heard in Raqqa city and its surroundings,” said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Washington has been careful not to let Syrian president Bashar Al Assad exploit the anti-ISIL campaign to make gains in the more than three-year-old civil war.

The US and Arab allies began airstrikes against ISIL in Syria on Tuesday, more than a month after Washington launched its air campaign against the militants in Iraq.

Washington had been reluctant to intervene in Syria, but acted after the militants captured more territory and committed widespread atrocities, including beheading three Western hostages.

A US defence official said on Friday the Syrian mission is now similar to Iraq’s, with “near continuous” sorties.

Washington also plans to train and arm 5,000 Syrian rebels, although top US military officer General Martin Dempsey said 12,000 to 15,000 men would be required to recapture “lost territory” in Syria.

Gen Dempsey said defeating ISIL would take more than airstrikes and that “a ground component” was an important aspect of the campaign.

At the UN General Assembly, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov accused Washington of declaring its "right to unilateral use of force anywhere to uphold its own interests" in a veiled reference to the Syrian campaign.

European governments have so far ruled out strikes in Syria, although Britain “reserved the right” to intervene there if there was an imminent “humanitarian catastrophe”.

Iran’s ground forces commander General Ahmad Reza Pourdestanahas warned that it too would attack ISIL in Iraq if it approached the border, state media reported.

* Agence France-Presse