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U.S. blacklists Syrian rebel group for Al Qaeda ties

December 11, 2012
  • Syrian security officers gather March 17 in front of the damaged building of the aviation intelligence department, which was hit by one of two explosions in Damascus. Jabhat al-Nusra claimed that it carried out the double suicide bombing.
Syrian security officers gather March 17 in front of the damaged building… (Bassem Tellawi / Associated…)

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration has formally designated a rebel group fighting in Syria as a terrorist organization in hopes of marginalizing the Al Qaeda affiliate and reducing its chances of playing a major role in the country should the government fall.

Administration officials blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, describing it as a wing of Al Qaeda in Iraq, which was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans during the height of the Iraq war. The Nusra Front is one of dozens of rebel groups that have emerged in the Syrian conflict.

U.S. officials hope the move will convince more mainstream opposition militias in Syria to steer clear of the Nusra Front, and will persuade Mideastern allies that may be arming the group to stop. But reaction to the blacklisting remains unclear, since many other militias respect the Nusra Front’s fighting abilities and have gained access to weapons caches by collaborating with them.

The blacklisting by the State Department, anticipated for several weeks, is one of several diplomatic moves planned by the administration to try to maneuver more moderate groups into a position to shape a new government if President Bashar Assad falls.

The terrorist designation will freeze foreign assets of the Nusra Front, and bars Americans from knowingly providing support to it.

U.S. officials acknowledged that the restrictions may have a limited effect on the group in the short term. But they said the designation will make it harder for known group members to cross borders, which could hamper their operations.

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