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May 28, 5:35 AM EDT

Syria's al-Qaida chief says no plans to attack the West


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BEIRUT (AP) -- Al-Qaida's branch in Syria has no plans to attack the west but warns that they might retaliate if airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition continue to target them, the leader of the group said in an interview with an Arab TV station.

The Syrian known as Abu Muhammed al-Golani, who heads the Nusra Front, said the aim of his group is to march to the Syrian capital Damascus and bring down President Bashar Assad's government. Al-Golani denied that the so-called Khorasan group even exists.

Since September when the U.S. led coalition began targeting the Islamic State group in Syria, U.S. airstrikes have attacked targets associated with the so-called Khorasan group - which Washington says is a special cell within the Nusra Front that is plotting attacks against Western interests.

Al-Golani said in an interview with the Al-Jazeera TV aired Wednesday night that "there is nothing called Khorasan group. We heard this from the Americans only."

He added that if the coalition's airstrikes continue "then the alternatives are open and it is the right of any human being to defend himself."

Al-Golani said that the directions they have received from al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri are "not to use Syria for attacks against the West and Europe."

"The directions that we are received from Dr. Ayman, may God protect him, are that the Nusra Front aim is to bring down the regime and its allies, I mean Hezbollah," al-Golani, whose face was not shown during the interview, said.

He added that the "directions we have received until now is not to target the west and America." He said al-Qaida might be doing so but not the Nusra Front.

The Nusra Front, one of Syria's strongest groups, is leading the so-called Fatah Army that consists seven Syria-based factions. The Fatah Army has defeated Assad's forces in northwestern Syria over the past two months capturing wide areas of the northwestern province of Idlib, including the provincial capital that carries the same name.

It was the second interview that al-Golani has given to Al-Jazeera.

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