DISMISS, DENY, DEFEND: In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with Syrian activist Khaled Abu Salah, Islamic Front leader Zahran Aloush dismisses the Syrian National Coalition’s participation in Geneva II as a betrayal, denies his group’s participation in a high-profile kidnapping and describes insurgent group Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS) as “criminal.”
As a founder of rebel group Jaish al-Islam and currently the military leader of the Islamic Front, an umbrella organization comprising seven powerful Islamist groups and commanding as many as 70,000 troops, Aloush is among the most powerful rebel leaders in Syria today.
"Participants in Geneva II are selling the blood of the Syrian people at a very cheap price,” he told Abu Salah, who challenged his statements in a tough interview that broadcast across several news channels Tuesday. The long-awaited peace talks are set to begin Wednesday, after the opposition-in-exile Syrian National Coalition narrowly voted to attend.
In the past month, Aloush’s partisans have openly warred with ISIS in northern Syria, forcing the extremist group out of strongholds in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.
The Islamic Front “started the war against ISIS,” Aloush explained in the interview, “to defend itself, after growing impatient with the organization’s [ISIS’s] atrocities.”
ISIS, Aloush says, is “a criminal group that uses poor and simple jihadi fighters. And it is leaded by dubious affiliation,” he said.
More than 700 combatants have died since fighting began between ISIS and northern Syria’s rebels last month, during which ISIS has been able to consolidate control over the entire northeastern province of A-Raqqa.
On Tuesday, Aloush tweeted that the ferocity of the anti-Assad infighting has not surprised him.
"We are not surprised by the wrath of al-Baghdadi and his strong gang, after they announced themselves to the public. They erected their virtual state with wicked media, fooling the minds of some Muslims,” he said, naming ISIS’s Iraqi leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Aloush also insisted his group had not participated in last month’s kidnapping of Razan Zeitouneh, a well-known activist, lawyer and founder of the pro-opposition Violations Documentation Center, along with her colleagues in the Damascus suburb of Douma.
"We have no agenda in Douma," he said. “We are an army, we don't play a security role."
Video courtesy of Ain News Network.