Syria rebel leader Col. Riad al-Asaad wounded in attack, opposition says

Col. Riad al-Asaad, a defected Syrian Army officer who went on to form the rebel Free Syrian Army, is seen in a video posted online in mid-March, 2013. YouTube

Updated at 10:10 a.m. Eastern

BEIRUT Syrian activists say a senior rebel military figure has lost a leg after a bomb hit his car.

A member of the rebel Free Syrian Army told Al Jazeera television Monday morning that Col. Riad al-Asaad, the group's founder, had to have a leg amputated after assailants attacked his car in the town of Mayadeen, just south of Deir al-Zour, an embattled city in Syria's east.

According to the FSA source, the assailants forced al-Asaad's car to stop and then hurled a grenade at it. Al-Asaad's deputy Malik al-Kurdi told Al Jazeera that the FSA leader was the subject of an assassination attempt by assailants working for President Bashar Assad's regime, who he said had placed a bomb directly under his car. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Opposition members said al-Asaad had been evacuated across the border into Turkey, some 150 miles north of Mayadeen, to recuperate. A Turkish official confirmed that report to the Reuters news agency and said al-Asaad's life was not in danger.

Al-Asaad was a prominent defector from the Syrian army who became head of the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella group that tried to gather rebel fighters under a unified command. But he became little more than a figurehead as his group was superseded by the Revolutionary Military Council, associated with the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

In recent days, as a senior U.S. lawmaker amplified his call for the Obama administration to do more to directly support Syria's rebel fighters, lingering fractures within the opposition movement were laid bare.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told "Face the Nation" host Bob Schieffer on Sunday that President Obama should use "small groups" of American forces with "special capabilities" to work with rebel fighters, "so we can vet them, train them, equip them, so that they can be an effective fighting force."

Rogers blasted President Obama for "dangerous" indecision over whether to provide such direct assistance to the rebels.

But hours after Rogers spoke, the opposition he was referring to began to look, once again, like a movement tearing at the seams, as its president resigned and its military boss refused to recognize a prime minister recently elected to lead an interim rebel government.

In his surprise resignation Sunday, Coalition president Mouaz al-Khatib expressed frustration with the both the international community and the opposition body itself. Al-Khatib, a respected preacher who has led the Coalition since its creation late last year, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that he was making good on a vow to quit if certain undefined "red lines" were crossed.

"I am keeping my promise today and announcing my resignation from the National Coalition so that I can work with freedom that is not available inside the official institutions," he said.

The second blow Sunday to the opposition leadership was delivered by the head of the Coalition's own military branch, Revolutionary Military Council chief Gen. Salim Idris, who refused to recognize the body's new prime minister, saying he did not represent many anti-Assad groups.

Last week, the Coalition elected a little-known U.S.-educated IT expert named Ghassan Hitto to head a rebel interim government.

But in a video statement posted online and distributed by his aides Sunday, Idris said his group would only support a prime minister with broad backing.

"For the purpose of giving power to a prime minister to unite the revolutionary forces and lead the Syrian revolution toward certain victory, we unequivocally declare that the Free Syrian Army in all of its formations and revolutionary powers conditions its support and cooperation on the achievement of a political agreement on the name of a prime minister," he said.

A Salim aide, Louay Almokdad, said many prominent Syrian figures had opposed Hitto's election.

Hitto received 35 out of 48 votes cast by the 63 active members of the opposition Syrian National Coalition last week.

The power and influence wielded even by Gen. Idris on the ground in Syria is debatable. While his Military Council does boasts regional branches in Syria's most embattled cities, it represents only one fraction of the armed men fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

Far more aggressive -- and effective -- in the fight against President Assad's army have been the Islamic extremist militias, operating under the banner of groups like Ansar al Nusra, which the U.S. has classified as a foreign terrorist group.

These militias or brigades share the goal of regime change, but also have aspirations more akin to those of al Qaeda than the Western-backed Military Council -- and it is these groups which are viewed by many on the ground as leading the charge against Assad, not Gen. Idris' and his Military Council.

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