That something horrific happened in the early morning hours last Wednesday in areas east of Damascus is clear.
Between four hundred and fourteen hundred are reported dead with thousands more reported to have suffered from exposure to some sort of toxin, and this happened in an area which is predominately under the control of al-Nusrah.
This area is one of the few areas in western Syria which are still under al-Nusrah control. They and the other radical Islamic groups have mostly withdrawn to northern Syria along the Turkish-Syrian border.
The Syrian opposition and rebel groups immediately accused Syrian government forces of having carried out a chemical weapons attack, and many followed their lead.
It is possible that Syrian government forces carried out this attack. However, when some, including myself, brought up that it is also possible that al-Nusrah could have carried out a chemical weapons attack, we were generally met with three types of response.
There were the melodramatic cries of "But the babies!!! Look at the dead babies!!!"
And the untrue exclamations that "Assad has massacred over 100,000 civilians!!!"
But the most insidious responses went something like this:
"They (It's always 'they' or 'the rebels', never 'al-Nusrah'.) couldn't do it. They don't have the capability."
This is not only condescending (Implied: Those primitive stupid Arabs and Muslims don't have the brains to do this.), it is also an attempt to elicit sympathy (Implied: Look at those poor rebels, they have nothing.).
More importantly, though, is the fact that it is simply wrong.
Chemical attacks such as what happened last week east of Damascus don't require high technology. They can be carried out with basic materials and simple equipment.
Even if someone doesn't accept that high technology isn't necessary, it is important to remember that al-Nusrah is a part of al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda has been planning and carrying out large complex attacks for decades, 9/11 being only one example.
al-Qaeda is probably the most successful terrorist organization in history. It has cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
Is it really a stretch of the imagination to consider that such a chemical attack is beyond the capabilities of al-Nusrah/al-Qaeda?
... and this:
"They wouldn't do this to their own people."
This is vile.
The subtle attempt to portray 'them' as altruistic, benevolent, and popular. (Implied: Look, they have people, and the people who live in the area of the attacks support them. That's why they live there.).
With the underhanded attempt to label Syrian government forces as sectarian (Implied: They are not Assad's people, and that's why he gassed them.).
And again, it is simply wrong.
al-Nusrah and its fellow radical Islamic groups are not altruistic or benevolent. They are vicious radicals and are not popular among most of the people who live in the areas under their control. They are also the most sectarian groups in Syria.
They openly and enthusiastically kill anyone they feel is not with them or doesn't support them, and do not hesitate to kill, kidnap, or displace civilians whenever they think it will serve their cause, or if they just feel like doing it.
And they are killing, and kidnapping, and forcing out of their homes large numbers of Kurds now, at this very moment, in northeastern Syria as they try to take control of the Kurdish areas there.
Statements about al-Nusrah (and other armed radical Islamic groups in Syria) like the two mentioned above are intentionally or unintentionally glossing over what al-Nusrah is and does. Either way they are disgraceful.