April 2, 2013

Mazen Bassel is a spokesman for Shahed News, a network of vetted citizen journalists across Syria. Bassel spoke to reporter Ahmed Kwider via Skype from Damascus.

Q: We know that the FSA includes government defectors and some civilians. Jabhat a-Nusra includes Arab and Syrian jihadists. What is the ideological difference between the FSA and a-Nusra?

A: Jabhat a-Nusra was not so influential in the beginning. It was the regime that bestowed awe and prestige upon it. It is true that the fighters of Jabhat a-Nusra are jihadists but most of those who have recently joined it are Syrians. Jabhat a-Nusra’s fighters are the most qualified for battle. They have the capacity to achieve gains in the field. This is why Syrians tend to join Jabhat a-Nusra: Because they have arms and they get funding from an unknown source. Jabhat a-Nusra’s specialty is their ability to effectively breach the core of the regime’s security.

One of the stories we heard is that when Jabhat a-Nusra attacks an army checkpoint, they leave the spoils behind for FSA battalions to take.

In the beginning, Jabhat a-Nusra provided arms for the people who wanted to join it. If someone wanted to join the FSA, however, he had to buy his own weapon, a rifle. Jabhat a-Nusra has a terrifying amount of funding and weaponry.

Q: Speaking of Islamist brigades, an estimated 200,000 people live in the city of Duma, which is now under the control of the opposition al-Islam Brigade. Has it been successful or do they face problems?

Al-Islam Brigade controls the city of Duma. They do face small problems but generally speaking their performance is excellent, considering their capabilities. They provide flour, of which they have a strategic reserve in Eastern Ghouta. People still go to the markets. I hear people talking about the destruction of Duma but I have some friends who now live in Damascus the capital and plan to move to Duma.