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.

 

Yemen government returns to Aden with eyes set on Sanaa

Arbil urges PKK to move out of Iraq Kurdistan

Syria army pushes back rebels near Latakia province

ISIS flexes muscles in eastern Libya

Iraq protesters vent anger over poor services

Egypt court postpones verdict on brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri

Immigration surpasses economy as major concern in Europe

Plane crash kills family members of Bin Laden

Erdogan calls for early elections if no coalition

Palestinian baby killed in arson attack by Jewish settlers

Kurds in Diyarbakir fear return to war

State of emergency in Tunisia extended

Jerusalem Gay Pride attack suspect lashes out in court

'Kurdish Obama' faces his biggest test

Yemen blockade 'killing' as many civilians as war

EU urges Israel to show 'zero tolerance for settler violence'

Cash-strapped Tunisia's Syphax airline grounds flights

Pentagon denies US-trained rebels captured in Syria

Morocco king calls for development of remote regions

Host of US celebrities endorses Iran nuclear deal

PKK braces for fight with Turkey in Iraq mountain bastions

Kurdish party chief dismisses Turkey anti-IS raids

Thomas Cook warns Tunisia attacks affect annual results

Three Al-Jazeera journalists await Egypt retrial verdict

Kuwait uncovers new IS cell

One Turkish police killed in attack blamed on PKK

Israel approves law allowing force feeding of prisoners

New sexist gaffe of Turkish deputy PM: 'As a woman, be quiet!

UN envoy invites Syrians to ‘thematic’ talks

Egypt's gift to the world: Suez Canal Axis

Pentagon to worried lawmakers: We will remain vigilant on Iran

Hamas calls for revolt against Palestinian Authority

ISIS claims deadly car bomb in Yemen capital

Allies tolerate Turkey's double game to boost IS fight

Somalia ‘making progress’ despite insecurity and election delay

Germany, Iraqi Kurds say Turkey should resume peace process

Syria skeptical about Turkey's intentions in fight against ISIS

Somalia indentifies hotel bomber as former German resident

US gets formal approval to use Incirlik air base in Turkey

Saudi policeman killed, 2 injured in attack

Israel PM approves 300 settler homes in occupied West Bank

Jordan jails 8 for "plotting a terrorist act"

Israel committed war crimes on 'Black Friday'

Israeli strike on Syrian town kills 5 pro-regime fighters

Yemen orders militia to merge with army