President Bashar Assad accused the West of supporting al Qaeda militants in Syria’s civil war and warned they would turn against their backers and strike “in the heart of Europe and the United States.”
NBC News Assad also launched his strongest criticism yet of neighboring Jordan for allowing thousands of fighters to cross the border to join a conflict he insisted his forces would win and save Syria from destruction.
“We have no choice but victory. If we don’t win, Syria will be finished and I don’t think this is a choice for any citizen in Syria,” the defiant president said in a television interview.
The conflict started with mainly peaceful demonstrations but descended into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed. Islamist militants have emerged as the most potent of the anti-Assad rebels.
Drawing parallels with Western support for anti-Soviet fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s, some of whom later formed the al Qaeda organization which attacked the United States in September 2011, Assad said Washington and Europe would regret supporting rebels in Syria.
“The West 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 al-Ikhbariya channel.
“The truth is, what is happening is that we are mainly facing extremist forces,” Assad added. He 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 has sought to bolster rival rebel forces to counter the influence of the Islamists, training fighters in neighboring Jordan and allowing arms shipments to them.
“The fire will not stop at our border and everybody knows that Jordan is exposed as Syria is,” he said. Rebels say U.S. officers in Jordan have been training groups of anti-Assad fighters from Damascus and the southern province of Deraa – where fighting has intensified in recent weeks and rebels have made gains.