UPDATE 1900 GMT: More fallout from the US attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra, with a statement from leader Abu Mohammad al-Joulani and claims that the Islamist faction is moving closer to the Islamic State.
The Guardian’s Martin Chulov claims from a “senior source” that “al-Nusra and ISIS leaders [are] now holding war-planning meetings”.
Jabhat al-Nusra broke from the Islamic State in spring 2013 and has been fighting with the Syrian insurgency, which is in a battle with the jihadists as well as the Assad regime.
On Sunday evening, the head of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Joulani, issued an audio message denouncing the US-led airstrikes and calling for unity against both the Islamic State and the West.
Jabhat al-Nusra has warned the US-led coalition over airstrikes inside Syria, four days after the Islamist insurgents were hit by American missiles and lost scores of fighters.
Jabhat al-Nusra spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri said in a video posted on Saturday, “These states have committed a horrible act that is going to put them on the list of jihadist targets throughout the world.”
In the first day of its attacks last Tuesday, the US hit two Jabhat al-Nusra locations — one in a village in Idlib Province (pictured), one west of Aleppo — killing more than 60 fighters and at least 14 civilians.
The Americans said that, in addition to their strikes on the Islamic State, they had launched eight attacks — including most of its first wave of 47 Tomahawk missiles — against buildings in the two areas. They said they were targeting the “Khorasan Group”, an “Al Qa’eda-linked” faction which has emerged in US intelligence claims this month as an imminent terrorist threat.
On Friday, Syrians held their largest marches in months to criticize the US-led coalition for targeting insurgents rather than the Assad regime and to express solidarity with Jabhat al-Nusra.
In a Saturday statement, insurgents listed seven reasons for opposition to the airstrikes:
1. The Syrian people feel that the international community is not serious about overthrowing Assad regime. Moreover, many people believe that the coalition aims at keeping him in power.
2. Killing a big number of civilians in the first wave of missiles reminded the Syrian people of the regime approach. They became afraid that more civilians will be killed because of the inaccurate targeting of the coalition.
3. The first strikes targeted groups that Syrians do not consider as terrorist and support them for fighting back the regime, not having international jihad projects, not committing crimes, and not imposing its own ideologies on people.
4. The strikes were not accompanied by adequate arming of opposition fighters to prevent the regime from exploiting the vacuum that will exist later.
5. The ambiguous position of the coalition that listed groups other than the Islamic State as targets which gave an impression that all opposition groups are targeted.
6. The coalition attacks on hospitals, granaries, refineries and other infrastructure badly affected civilians just like Assad regime attacks.
7. The absence of no-fly zones that people have always needed increased people’s frustration.
Abu Firas, who reportedly came to Syria from Yemen in 2013, first appeared on video in March. He denounced the Islamic State, which had began its battle with Syrian insurgents two months earlier and had killed the envoy mandated by Al Qa’eda to remedy a split between the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra.
In August, Abu Firas was identified as Jabhat al-Nusra’s chief spokesman.
Claim: Assad’s Cousin and Ex-Head of Internal Security Makhlouf Flees Syria With Family
A reliable activist account on Twitter is claiming the flight from Syria of Hafez Makhlouf, a cousin of President Assad and former high-ranking intelligence officer, and his family:
EXCLUSIVE: Hafez Makhlouf and his family have left Damascus to settle in Belarus. They are in Kiev now en route.
— The 47th (@THE_47th) September 27, 2014
Earlier this month, Assad reportedly dismissed Makhlouf from his post as head of the Internal Branch of the General Security Directorate.
Photo: Kurdish Refugees in Turkey Watch Fighting Across Border Near Kobane
Kurdish refugees in Turkey — many of whom fled the Islamic State’s offensive in northern Syria — watch fighting across the border, near the town of Kobane, between the Islamic State and Kurdish forces:
The jihadists have been pressing the Kurdish center of Kobane for two weeks, taking scores of nearby villages to the west, south, and east. Kurdish forces have held lines about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the town.
On Saturday, the US-led coalition launched its first airstrikes in the area.
Video of attack on an Islamic State position:
The coalition also struck Islamic State targets near Raqqa, the largest city controlled by the jihadists. Video posted on YouTube appears to show a civilian killed by the attacks.