BEIRUT: Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate, Al-Nusra Front, said Friday it had captured “moderate” rebel fighters who had received training from the United States.
Al-Nusra accused Washington of recruiting “forces from what it calls ‘the moderate opposition’ to undergo a training and rehabilitation programme run by the Central Intelligence Agency.
“A few days ago, one of these groups called Division 30 entered Syria so Al-Nusra arrested several soldiers of this division,” the group said in an online statement.
It did not specify how many rebels had been captured, or where or when the incident took place.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group had reported that Al-Nusra kidnapped eight rebels from Division 30 in a village in the northern province of Aleppo late Wednesday.
On Thursday, a US defence department spokeswoman denied the report.
In its statement, Al-Nusra accused Division 30 of being “agents of American interests and projects in the area, to fight the ‘terrorist organisations,’ as they (the US and its rebel allies) described it.”
The jihadist group said Division 30 had coordinated with aircraft from the US-led coalition attacking jihadists in Syria to strike Al-Nusra positions.
“We warn the soldiers of this division not to proceed with the American plan. Their return to the truth and the right way will be more beneficial,” the statement said.
Also on Friday, Al-Nusra launched an offensive on Division 30 headquarters in northern Aleppo province.
According to the Observatory, at least 18 Al-Nusra fighters were killed in the ensuing clashes and raids by the US-led coalition.
Another seven rebels died defending the base.
In a statement posted on its Facebook page about the attack, Division 30 said five of its members had been killed and 18 had been wounded in the clashes.
Combined with the eight kidnapped rebels, this would mean at least 13 of the 54 original Division 30 members who entered Syria in mid-July have been rendered out of combat.
Division 30 called on rebels to come to their aid in defending the base, and demanded that Al-Nusra stop “spilling the blood of Muslims.”
Syria’s conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests, but has devolved into a multi-front civil war among rebels, regime forces, Kurdish fighters and jihadist groups.