Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo has said the CIA has been training Syrian rebel groups which are 'al-Qaeda under a different name'

A Syrian Catholic archbishop has accused the United States of joining forces with al-Qaeda in an attempt to topple President Bashar Al-Assad.

Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo of Hassaké-Nisibi said he believed that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was arming and training rebel groups in Syria which were al-Qaeda under “a different name”.

He said it was misleading for Western politicians to speak of support for “moderate rebels” in Syria because such groups simply did not exist.

He also said that Western military interference in his country was misguided because it could make Syria “like Libya”, a country where government and law and order have effectively collapsed amid fighting by rival groups after the US, Britain and France helped to bring down Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

The 74-year-old prelate spoke of his concerns after John McCain, chairman of the US Senate Armed Services Committee, admitted that America was supporting anti-Assad rebels at war with the Syrian government.

Mr McCain had made the admission in an interview with CNN, the US news organisation, in which he expressed his anger that Russian jets had started bombing Islamist rebels in Syria at the invitation of President Assad.

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“US Senator John McCain protested saying that the Russians are not bombing the positions of ISIS, but rather the anti-Assad rebels trained by the CIA,” Archbishop Hindo told Fides, a Vatican-based news agency.

“I find these words are disturbing,” he said. “They represent a blatant admission that behind the war against Assad there is also the CIA.”

Archbishop Hindo continued: “Western propaganda keeps talking about moderate rebels, who do not exist. There is something very disturbing about all this – there is a superpower that since September 11 protests because the Russians hit the militias of al-Qaeda in Syria.

“What does it mean, (that) al-Qaeda is now a US ally, just because in Syria it has a different name? But do they really despise our intelligence and our memory?”

Western powers had no right to be interfering in the conflict in Syria, the archbishop said, adding: “The Syrians will decide if and when Assad has to go away, and not the Daesh (ISIS) or the West and it is certain that if Assad goes away now, Syria will become like Libya.”

Russia has insisted that it is targeting only terrorist groups with the authorisation of the only legitimate government in Syria.

But in his interview with CNN, Mr McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, said he could “absolutely confirm” that Russian jets had bombed “our Free Syrian Army, or groups that have been armed and trained by the CIA, because we have communications with people there”.

In a second interview with CNN, he accused Russia of treating the US with “disdain and contempt” and repeated his claim that “CIA-run operations” had been targeted by Russia.

“They want to take them out,” he said.

President Assad is a member of the Alawite Muslim Shia minority of Syria and most of his opponents are Sunni Muslim jihadists supported by Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the some of the Gulf States.