The threats of US military action against Assad have sown widespread panic along many fronts within Syria, including extremists in the opposition, media reported.
Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are redeploying their resources in rebel-held parts of Syria amid widespread fears that any strikes carried out by the US would target not only the Syrian government, said rebels and activists.
In many parts of the northern and eastern provinces that have fallen almost entirely under rebel control, extremist groups have been evacuating headquarters, moving military equipment and, in some instances, fleeing to what is considered safer ground in mountainous terrain.
Fighters of the Free Syrian Army unit in Aleppo are heading for mountains in the west of the province. Convoys of vehicles carrying fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Ahrar al-Sham — a Syrian Salafi group — streamed out of the city Thursday, abandoning their headquarters, witnesses said.
In a statement disseminated on the Twitter account of one of its supporters, the radical group Fateh al-Islam offered advice to Islamists, warning that for every US missile that hits a regime target, another will strike a jihadi base.
“America destroyed jihadi bases in a very short period of time in Afghanistan and Iraq, and killed a large number of them, because they weren’t prepared. So don’t fall in the trap of laziness,” said the supporter, Abdullah Saker, detailing precautionary measures.
Even among rebels who have long hankered for Western help in their fight against Assad, there is widespread confusion and concerns about how the US strikes would unfold.
“People here are very worried the strikes will be intended to help the regime,” said Abu Hamza, an activist in the Damascus suburb of Darayya. “Of course I support it if it means ending the bloodshed, but there has been killing for 2.5 years, so why should we believe the United States is serious now? People lost trust in the U.S. government. They think the U.S. will only act for its own benefit.”