Anti-war demonstrators protest against intervention in Syria at the White House in Washington on September 10, 2013
Anti-war demonstrators protest against US intervention in Syria in front of the White House in Washington on September 10, 2013. © Nicholas Kamm - AFP/File
Anti-war demonstrators protest against intervention in Syria at the White House in Washington on September 10, 2013
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Ammar Karim, AFP
Last updated: September 11, 2013

In Syria air strike debate, jihadists remain silent

As the US has fought a media battle with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his backers over the prospect of military strikes, one group has remained noticeably silent: jihadists.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and Al-Nusra Front, both Al-Qaeda-linked groups that have joined the fight against Assad's regime, have largely avoided commenting on the potential strikes because, experts say, they are reluctant to acknowledge the help of a public foe.

And some fighters in their ranks, according to posts on jihadist forums, also fear the strikes could degrade their own capabilities.

"Interests between the United States and what we call jihadist groups are unified -- the fall of the (Syrian) regime," said Tareq al-Maamuri, a prominent Iraqi analyst and lawyer.

"It is natural that these groups will remain silent because their public position is to oppose the West, especially the United States, so they will not dare show their consent towards the strike.

"So in this regard, silence is considered acceptable."

The lack of statements on the subject marks a departure, particularly for ISIS, which in the past month alone has posted multiple statements claiming responsibility for a swathe of attacks across Iraq.

The group has even posted an audio file, purportedly recorded by its spokesman, calling for an uprising against the Egyptian army.

But on the prospect of punitive US-led strikes against Syria in response to chemical weapons attacks carried out near Damascus last month, allegedly by Assad's regime, they have remained silent.

"We always hear them (jihadist groups) bragging about their hatred of the West, but we see they are silent on the subject of a strike against an Arab country," said an Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the groups had been silent because "the strikes will benefit them, and strengthen them."

Ihsan al-Shammari, a politics professor at Baghdad University, echoed those remarks arguing that "weakening Assad will allow them to control more territory, which is what makes them silent regarding the strikes."

"Those groups, especially Al-Nusra and ISIS, will be the beneficiaries."

Assad's government denies having carried out the attacks and has instead blamed the rebels.

And a surprise initiative proposed by Russia, in which Syria would hand over its chemical weapons stockpile to international control, appears to have put the American strikes on hold at the 11th hour.

It came after the Los Angeles Times reported on Sunday that the Pentagon was readying more intense and longer attacks on Syria than originally planned, set to last three days.

Debate raged, however, on jihadist forums, between users on both sides of the debate over the strikes.

One poster on the Honein forum, who identified himself as Abu Musab al-Iraqi, wrote that Western intervention in Iraq in 2003 and in Libya in 2011 "was not a request from Muslims or jihadists, but in the end, it turned out to be beneficial for jihadists."

"I believe the military strike against Syria will be beneficial for Sunnis in the whole region, but they have to ... exploit what would happen," he wrote, alluding to the composition of the mostly-Sunni rebels fighting Assad, who hails from a sect that is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Not all were convinced, however, with another forum member, who identified himself as Abu Karam, warning: "There is no good that will come from the Americans, as we had experiences with them in Iraq and other places in the world."

"They come only with evil."

Others, meanwhile, voiced caution that American military strikes could hurt the capabilities of jihadist groups fighting Assad.

"Jihadis in the Levant should take care, and be prepared to drop all assumptions ahead of the anticipated crusader strike," said a poster who gave his name as Abu Saad al-Ameli.

"They have to act as if all the crusaders' strikes are going to target them, and not the Nusairi regime forces," Ameli said, using a pejorative term for Assad's Alawite sect.

"Enemies will try to hit two targets in one attack."

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