The leader of al-Qaeda's Syrian wing has said his organisation id marching on Damascus and will remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.
In a rare interview on 27 May on the Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohamad al-Jolani said: "We will continue our focus on Damascus and on toppling this regime. I assure you, Assad's fall won't take a long time."
Al-Jolani's face was not shown during the interview and it wasn't made clear where or when it took place, reported Reuters. All the the interviewer, Ahmad Mansur, would say was that it was broadcast "from liberated lands in Syria".
Al-Jolani warned members of Syria's Alawite minority sect should that they should renounce fellow Alawite Assad and change their beliefs.
"If they drop weapons, disavow Assad, do not send their men to fight for him and return to Islam, then they are our brothers," he said.
Bashar al-Assad's dictator father, Hafez, reportedly coerced the mufti of Damascus to declare the sect part of Shi'a Islam. However, al-Jolani told al-Jazeera that the sect that had "moved outside the religion of God and of Islam".
Al-Jolani also condemned the Lebanese Iranian-backed Shi'a group Hezbollah, which also supports the Assad regime.
But he made it clear that his instructions were not to "use al-Sham [Syria] as a base to launch attacks on the West or Europe, so as not to muddy the current war. Our mission in Syria is the downfall of the regime, its symbols, and its allies, like Hezbollah."
Nusra Front, the most powerful militia in Syria, has recently seized the city of Idlib and the town of Jisr al-Shughour, bringing them closer to the government-held coastline.