December 18, 2013 / 8:35 PM / 6 years ago

Head of Qaeda's Syria branch says does not seek rule in first TV appearance

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The leader of Syria’s al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front said in his first televised interview that his group was not seeking to rule Syria, but future rule must be based on Islamic law.

The hardline Nusra Front is one of the most powerful groups fighting alongside rebels trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Its leader, known as Abu Mohammed al-Golani, rarely gives public messages and had never appeared on a public forum until his interview with the pan-Arab news channel Al Jazeera, parts of which were aired late on Wednesday.

Golani was filmed from behind, his face wrapped in a black scarf, with only his hands visible.

“The Nusra Front does not seek to rule society on its own when we reach the stage of the liberation of Sham (Syria),” Abu Golani told Al Jazeera in the pre-recorded interview.

He proposed a legal council made up of Muslim clerics and thinkers who supported the Syrian uprising, even if they were outside the country.

“They will put in place an appropriate plan for running the country, which of course will be based on Islamic sharia, ruling on the basis of God’s law,” he said.

A full version of Golani’s interview will be aired on Thursday on Al Jazeera, the news channel said.

The Nusra Front pledged loyalty to al Qaeda, which has in turn embraced the group as its franchise in Syria.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) was originally the branch of al Qaeda in Iraq but changed its name and aimed to expand to Syria. ISIL has not been accepted by central al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as having a legitimate role in Syria.

Nusra fighters want to see a strict version of Islamic law imposed in Syria, but are not seen as being as radical as ISIL. Recently more and more ISIL fighters have filmed themselves executing Muslims that they have declared are apostates, an accusation known as “takfir” in Arabic.

Such tactics, as well as a growing intolerance of rival Syrian rebel groups and critical activists, have made many local residents wary of Islamist forces in rebel-held northern Syria.

In his interview with Al Jazeera, Golani vowed to stop the takfir phenomenon.

“We strongly condemn those who go to extremes in declaring takfir of individuals or a general group of people. We consider all Muslim societies to be Muslim, and we consider Syrian society in general to be Muslim. We reject those who say that this society is an apostate one,” he said.

“We will punish those who do this without knowledge or understanding.”

Reporting by Erika Solomon; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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