One of the founders of the Washington-based Syrian Support Group (SSG), which raises funds for the Free Syrian Army, says the West's refusal to support the rebels is driving Syrians into the arms of radical jihadists. Dr. Maher Nana, an American-Syrian doctor who travels in and out of Syria to work with rebel leaders is one of several people Clarissa Ward speaks to in Syria about the war for a 60 Minutes report to be broadcast Sun., Oct. 14at 7:00 p.m. ET/PT.
Raising donations from Syrian-Americans, the SSG has a special license from the Department of the Treasury to send money to rebels who can use it to buy weapons, communication equipment or other supplies for the fight against Bashar al-Assad's government. The group, which reports regularly to the State Department on its work inside Syria, aims to identify upstanding commanders who agree to protect human rights. Dr. Nana travels to Syria frequently, he says, to check on their activities and to "make sure they are standing for their values."
But he warns that, because the rebel commanders he backs are not getting the weapons and funding that they need, they are losing ground to jihadists - some with ties to al Qaeda - who are pouring into the fight. Nana, a moderate, says the rise of these groups is the direct result of the West's failure to come to the aid of the Syrian rebels. "When you fight for your life, you ask for help," he tells Ward. "And when good people don't help you, you're going to ask for help from anybody else."
Ward spoke with the leader of one of the jihadi groups, Ahmed al-Abaid who commands several hundred Muslim fundamentalist fighters based in Northern Syria. In an interview with Ward, he said the free Syria he is fighting for will be ruled under Sharia law but denied reports that, under his command, self-appointed Sharia judges were sentencing prisoners to death. Ward gathered evidence, however, and confronted him in a second interview with a propaganda video showing his brigade executing captured Syrian government soldiers. He was startled by the video but defended the verdict. "No, I was not aware. This is the first time that I see this," he said, but when Ward reminded him that his men were clearly responsible for the execution all he could say was "I really don't know, what can I say. I can no[t] speak," he tells Ward.
Ward and her team witnessed firsthand the suffering of the people of Aleppo, who live under constant bombardment from tanks and jets. She met opposition activist and teacher Salah Hawa in the charred remains of the home he was born and raised in. When government troops came through his neighborhood, they targeted his home and those of other known leaders of the opposition, and burnt it to the ground. "They burnt it in a way not to allow anyone to live here anymore... [Government soldiers] want to kill us. Either we accept Bashar al-Assad to be our president or we have to be killed," he says. "These soldiers wrote on every single wall in our city, 'Either you accept Bashar al-Assad, or we burn the whole country," Hawa tells Ward.