Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad has defended Trump’s Muslim ban, arguing that the controversial decree only targeted “terrorists”, despite the fact that it is a blanket ban on refugees from his country, most of whom fleeing from his regime’s bombardment.

The main cause of Syrians fleeing to Europe and beyond was to flee the violence of the government of Bashar al-Assad, according to a 2015 survey among refugees organised by a German rights group.

Bashar al-Assad said on in an interview with French media broadcast on Thursday that the travel ban, which included an indefinite ban on all Syrian refugees, was designed to prevent “terrorists” from infiltrating the US.

“It’s against the terrorists that would infiltrate some of the immigrants to the West. And that happened. It happened in Europe, mainly in Germany,” Assad said in an interview with Europe 1 radio on Tuesday.

“I think the aim of Trump is to prevent those people from coming.” It was “not against the Syrian people”, he added.

Trump issued a decree last month that denied entry to all refugees for 120 days, and travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. Refugees from Syria were blocked indefinitely.

The ban was later suspended after two US states sought to have it overturned on grounds of religious discrimination and because it had caused “irreparable injury.”

Assad last November said that the divisive US leader would be a “natural ally” to Syria if he fulfils his pledge to fight “terrorists”.

Also in the interview, Assad said the extremist-held city of Raqqa was not a priority target for his forces, stressing his goal was to retake “every inch” of Syrian territory.

“Raqqa is a symbol,” Assad said while asserting that attacks carried out in France by the Islamic State group [IS] were “not necessarily prepared” in the group’s stronghold in Syria.

“You have ISIS close to Damascus, you have them everywhere,” Assad said, using another acronym for IS.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

[This article was originally published by The New Arab and reproduced here with permission.]