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Syrian rebels accuse Turkey of Nusra tip off about US-trained fighters

Around 22 members of the US-backed Division 30 are still held al-Nusra Front
Al-Nusra Front supporters protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the international coalition in Aleppo (AFP)

Turkish officials tipped off al-Nusra Front about the entry of US-trained fighters into Syria shortly before they were kidnapped, according to Syrian rebel sources.

Fighters from the Division 30 Brigade of 54 “moderate” US-trained rebels told McClatchy on Tuesday that Turkish intelligence had informed the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front of the brigade’s entrance into Syria, enabling al-Nusra to kidnap them.

“Only the Americans and the Turks knew” about the plans, said one Division 30 officer. “We have sources who tell us the Turks warned Nusra that they would be targeted by this group.”

A Turkish official contacted by McClatchy said that the government would not comment on al-Nusra-related issues.

Nusra, which still holds 22 Division 30 soldiers captive, regards the fighters as traitors for allying with the US and focusing exclusively on the Islamic State (IS) rather than the government of Bashar al-Assad.

“Right now, the only thing keeping our men alive is that Turkey does not want them executed – al-Qaeda always executes Arabs who work for the CIA,” the officer was quoted as saying.

Another Division 30 spokesman, Captain Ammar al-Wawi, refused to put direct blame on Turkey, but acknowledged that there must have been a tip-off from somewhere.

“I have to live here in Turkey and have been targeted for kidnapping or assassination twice in the last month,” Wawi said. “But we know someone aligned with Nusra informed them of our presence. They were taken within 10 minutes.”

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the US military had seen “no indications that Turkish officials alerted the Nusra Front” adding that Turkey was “a NATO ally, close friend of the United States and an important partner in the international coalition," McClatchy quoted him as saying.

Other observers have pointed out that there had been public indications of Division 30’s entry into the Syrian conflict:

Though the al-Nusra is officially listed as a terrorist organisation in Turkey, the group has been at the forefront of gains made by rebel forces in Idlib province, which enjoyed the strategic and financial backing of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar.

One Division 30 commander, who asked McClatchy for anonymity, warned that Turkey’s relations with al-Nusra would eventually deteriorate.

“They [Turkey] don’t want anything bad to happen to their allies – Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham – along the border and they know that both the Americans and the Syrian people will eventually recognise that there’s no difference between groups like Nusra, Ahrar and Daesh [IS]," he said.