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.

 

Syrian regime confident of Aleppo victory

Dozens of civilians killed in Iraq air strike

Israel votes to approve settler homes bill

Egypt’s 'three-year strategy' seeks to revive struggling economy

Qatar to invest up to $13bn on 'mega projects' in 2017

Two Hamas militants killed in Gaza tunnel collapse

Libya's key oil region threatened by renewed fighting

Syria rebels call for Aleppo ceasefire

Rebel rockets scar west Aleppo residents

Egypt jails prominent NGO activist

Turkish soldier killed in Syria bomb blast

IS-linked group ousted from Somalia town

Kerry, Lavrov to resume Syria talks Wednesday

Iraqis swarm to remarry after liberation from ‘caliphate’

Four drown, 34 rescued off Morocco coast

Israel to vote on bill to legalise West Bank settlements

Turkish businessmen embrace Erdogan’s plan to boost lira

Battle for Mosul advances deeper into city

Iran to sign deal with Shell in bid to boost output

Israeli missiles strike targets outside Damascus

Over 40 people missing after ship sinks off Yemen

Hollande condemns Russia’s ‘systematic obstruction’ of Syria ceasefire

Turkey doing 'everything possible' to push Syria talks between Russia, opposition

Britain wants ‘strategic partnership’ with GCC

Russia army colonel dies after Aleppo rebel shelling

Syria forces take control of Aleppo Old City

Libyan forces hunt remaining jihadists in Sirte

Iraqi jailed in Sweden for war crimes after Facebook post

Regime forces seize five Aleppo districts from rebels

Israeli artist erects golden Netanyahu statue in protest

Russia says US stalling on Aleppo rebel pullout

Saudi sentences 15 to death for being Iranian spies

US defence secretary says Mosul battle could end before Trump

US, NATO stress 'unity' as Trump raises doubts

Greece to extradite three Turkish coup officers

Egypt arrests 25 human organ traffickers

Morocco PM statement on Russia’s ‘destructive’ role in Syria angers Moscow

Israel far right hails bill to 'legalise' settler homes

Merkel says Aleppo situation ‘disgrace’

Iranian president says sanctions renewal proves US still ‘enemy’

Yemen arrests eight IS suspects in Aden

Turkey arrests opposition advisor over alleged Gulen links

Russia says OPEC, non-OPEC countries to meet in Vienna

British PM joins GCC summit for trade talks

Israel government nears deal that could 'legalise' settler homes