First Published: 2012-12-11

 

US puts Syrian Al-Nusra Front on terror blacklist

 

Blacklist of Al-Nusra Front marks major shift in US policy towards rebels which have previously been tolerant of Islamist elements.

 

Middle East Online

Confiscation of Islamists’ 'achievements'

DAMASCUS - Washington put a key Syrian rebel group on its terror blacklist on Tuesday citing Al-Qaeda links, a day after the jihadist faction showed its power in the battlefield by capturing a key army base.

The US move came amid growing Western concern that Al-Qaeda loyalists have been hijacking the 21-month revolt against President Bashar al-Assad's rule and could turn any weaponry supplied to the rebels against Western targets.

Washington balanced its move with the announcement of fresh sanctions against pro-Assad militias.

But the blacklist of the Al-Nusra Front marked a major shift in US policy towards the rebels which had previously been tolerant of the large Islamist element within their ranks.

The US State Department said that despite its efforts to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition, Al-Nusra was a front for the Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) organisation that mounted a deadly insurgency against US troops in Syria's eastern neighbour which peaked in 2006-7.

"It is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes," it said.

The Al-Nusra Front's fighters, many of them jihadist volunteers from around the Islamic world, were instrumental in the fall of the army's massive Sheikh Suleiman base in northern Syria on Monday after a months-long siege.

Its role in the seizure of the garrison, the government's last between second city Aleppo and the Turkish border, undercut the military influence of the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) which the West has been counting on to rein in the jihadists.

An AFP journalist who witnessed the clashes around Sheikh Suleiman said many fighters were from other Arab countries and Central Asia.

The US Treasury Department designated two of the Al-Nusra Front's senior leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al-Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, for sanctions.

It also imposed sanctions on two armed militias supporting the Assad regime -- Jaysh al-Sha'bi and Shabiha -- as well as two Shabiha commanders.

"These militias have been instrumental in the Assad regime's campaign of terror and violence against the citizens of Syria," the Treasury Department said.

The United States "will target the pro-Assad militias just as we will the terrorists who falsely cloak themselves in the flag of the legitimate opposition," said David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

At the same time Washington said that it had reason to ease the urgent concerns it had expressed in recent weeks about the dangers of Damascus resorting to use of its chemical weapons stockpiles against the rebels.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said Syria had not taken any new steps in recent days that signal a readiness to use its arsenal.

"At this point the intelligence has really kind of levelled off. We haven't seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way," Panetta told reporters aboard his plane before landing in Kuwait.

"But we continue to monitor it very closely and we continue to make clear to them that they should not under any means make use of these chemical weapons against their own population."

Inside Syria, Islamist rebels loyal to Muslim Brotherhood-backed Liwa al-Tawhid assaulted a military school in battlefield Aleppo province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

"The school is very important for its size and location," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said, adding that it schooled some 3,000 cadets.

In footage posted on the Internet with the group's logo, five gunmen were seen firing automatic weapons from behind a hill toward a building in a wooded area, as explosions are heard in the background. The video's authenticity could not be verified.

With the death toll now topping 42,000, according to the Observatory's figures, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the number of Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and the wider Arab world had now passed half a million.

"And these numbers are currently climbing by more than 3,000 a day," UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters in Geneva.

 

Qatar blocks planes from transporting pilgrims

Russia destroys large column of IS fighters in Syria

Erdogan says joint op with Iran against Kurds ‘on the agenda’

Barcelona attack fugitive ‘dangerous, possibly armed’ warn police

In Egypt, Syrian refugees recreate Syria

Spanish police shoot dead man who could be Barcelona attacker

Iraqi forces close in on last IS bastion in country’s north

Kuwait arrests 13 fugitives in Iran-linked terror case

Lebanese president ratifies public sector wage rise, tax hike

Young Syrian refugees want end of war and ISIS

Lebanon army advances against IS in border battle

Spanish police say driver of Barcelona rampage van identified

Toxic politics in Italy, Libya further complicate migration problem

Assad says no Syria ties for countries backing rebels

In African tour, Sisi seeks to rebuild ties, address security and water concerns

Syria’s transition scenarios for future rounds of talks

Iraqi Kurds may postpone referendum in return for concessions

Dubai real estate market sets the pace for renewed growth in the GCC

German-Turkish intellectual held at Ankara’s request

Jordan’s municipal elections marred by deaths, riots

Rouhani says top priority is protecting nuclear deal from US

Russia doubts IS claim of stabbing attack in northern city

Turkey slams 'arrogant' German reaction to Erdogan poll call

Police confirm Finland 'terror attack'

Spain hunts suspects as IS claims attack

Aid project helps Syria refugees feel at home in Jordan

Lebanese army launches anti-IS offensive on Syria border

UN demands access to Yemen ports

Low-cost attacks a new reality for Europeans

Forces of Libya's Haftar say commander wanted by ICC in detention

Yemen rebels urged to free political commentator

Iranian footballer breaks silence over ban for playing Israelis

Erdogan meddles in German politics

IS fighters almost encircled in Syrian desert

For Israel, White House ties trump neo-Nazis and antisemitism

Israel freezes implementation of settlement law

Saudi Arabia installing cranes at Yemen ports

13 dead, 100 injured in two Spanish seaside city attacks

Iran reform leader ends hunger strike

Van ploughs through pedestrians in Barcelona terror attack

13 killed in Barcelona van attack

Iraq acknowledges abuses in Mosul campaign

Netanyahu under fire for response to US neo-Nazism

Israel to free high-profile suspects in money laundering probe

Spanish police shut down jet-ski migrant smugglers