Assad says West will pay for backing al Qaeda in Syria

BEIRUT Wed Apr 17, 2013 3:44pm EDT

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) attends an interview with Syrian television channel al-Ikhbariya in Damascus, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on April 17, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (R) attends an interview with Syrian television channel al-Ikhbariya in Damascus, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on April 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/SANA/Handout

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Western nations will suffer the consequences for what he said was their support for al Qaeda militants in his country's civil war.

"The West has paid heavily for funding al Qaeda in its early stages in Afghanistan. Today it is supporting it in Syria, Libya and other places, and will pay a heavy price later in the heart of Europe and the United States," he told Syrian television channel al-Ikhbariya, according to extracts published on the Syrian presidency's Facebook page on Wednesday.

Assad was speaking a week after Syria's rebel al-Nusra Front, one of the most effective rebel forces battling his troops, formally pledged allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

The United States has designated the Nusra Front a terrorist organization and the presence of militant Islamists in Syria's two-year conflict poses a quandary for Western powers who favor Assad's overthrow, but are alarmed at the growing influence of the Islamists in Syria.

"The truth is, what is happening is that we are mainly facing extremist forces," Assad said in the interview.

The United Nations says more than 70,000 people have been killed in Syria's conflict, which started as mainly peaceful protests two years ago but has evolved into a civil war.

(Reporting by Dominic Evans and Mariam Karouny; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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