Syrian opposition questions Taliban rebel role
A Taliban member calls the news of Taliban fighters in Syria a rumor, the opposition says
(CNN) — Syria's main opposition group cast doubt on a Pakistan Taliban commander's claim that his fighters are establishing a presence in Syria to battle President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
The Syrian National Coalition questioned news reports, including on CNN, saying the Taliban has opened an office in Syria. The group notes that a member of Taliban's Shura Council denied the development, calling it a "rumor."
"We ask for clarification regarding coverage that reflects poorly on the Syrian revolution, particularly news about Taliban's office in Syria and other news items about Islamist fighters," the coalition said in a statement released Thursday.
The commander of the Pakistan Taliban, Abdul Rashid Abbasi, told CNN that the first batch of fighters has arrived in Syria and established a command-and-control center to launch operational activities alongside Syrian rebel fighters.
But Ahmed Kamel of the Syrian National Council, an entity that's part of the coalition, called the reporting part of a "systematic" and "rapid" campaign by pro-regime forces to smear the rebels.
He called them "sick attempts to make the Syrian people look like a bunch of radical Islamists."
"Syria is bigger than all of these lies and we know, based on our contacts inside Syria, that no Pakistani Taliban are fighting alongside the Syrian rebels," he said. "The Taliban want to kill Americans and Israelis, so why they should go to Syria when we are fighting for freedom, democracy and justice against a tyrant."
Abbasi, a close associate of Pakistan Taliban head Hakeemullah Mehsud, told CNN that 120 fighters are already in Syria and another batch of 150 fighters will arrive this week.
"We shall be sending more volunteers, but cannot give exact numbers at this moment. But we will provide whatever support is needed by our Syrian brothers," Abbasi told CNN.
The fighters, Abbasi said, were sent after the Pakistan Taliban received a request from a top-ranking militant. They will be under the command-and-control structure of al Qaeda in Syria, as it is leading the operation, he said.
This Pakistani Taliban claim comes as the Syrian civil war has become a Sunni-Shiite proxy battle of sorts.
CNN is unable to independently confirm that members of the Pakistan Taliban are inside Syria. CNN journalists previously inside Syria have seen foreign fighters participate in the country's civil war, which sprang from unrest sparked in the spring of 2011.
Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group, has backed the Alawite-dominated government. Alawites are offshoots of Shiites. Sunni Islamist militants, including those who support al Qaeda, are among those who have backed the Sunni-dominated rebel movement.
The Pakistani Taliban, which has long been conducting an insurgency against the Pakistani government, has claimed responsibility for a 2009 suicide strike targeting a CIA facility in Afghanistan and for the Times Square bombing attempt in 2010. The United States has targeted the Pakistani Taliban in that country's tribal region, along the Afghan border.
The group said it has also asked its local chapters in the Mohmand, Bajaur, Khyber, Orakzai and Waziristan agencies to recruit fresh fighters who are willing to go on their mission in Syria. The Pakistan Taliban says many young men are registering to go on their first foreign mission.
"We have lots of fighters here and our central command will be operating from here, so there is no reason to stop operations in Pakistan," Abbasi said. "They will go on as usual."
The Syrian Coalition, in a letter to English-language media operations, said it is confident that the outlets "strive to convey the news as it is delivered to you from different sources."
"Reiterating its commitment to objectively deliver the truth to all media, the Syrian Coalition media office stresses the need for media outlets to comply with professional rules and to seek more accuracy while reporting Syria's local and international news," the group said.
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