US blacklists radical Islamist rebel group

US blacklists radical Islamist rebel group

US blacklists radical Islamist rebel group

Two Syrian rebel fighters run to cross a road that is targeted by a government sniper fire in Aleppo. The US declares rebel al-Nusra Front as ‘terrorist.’ AFP photo

The United States yesterday blacklisted the al-Nusra Front, a rebel group in Syria linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq, accusing it of being a terror group trying to “hijack” the legitimate struggle of the Syrian rebels.

In designating the group a foreign terrorist organization, the State Department said that while al-Nusra portrayed itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition, “it is, in fact, an attempt by al-Qaeda to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes,” according to Agence France-Presse.

The group has claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings that killed scores of people, and has said it hopes to replace the al-Assad family’s four-decade-old dictatorship with a strict Islamic state.

The U.S. Treasury, meanwhile, announced sanctions against the leaders of both al-Nusra and militias backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Treasury Department also sanctioned two armed militia groups supporting the Assad regime, Jaysh al-Sha’bi and Shabiha, as well as two Shabiha commanders.

The U.S. “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.

The al-Nusra Front is one of the most effective of several armed groups fighting to overthrow the Syrian regime.

Chemical threat ‘slowed’

In Kuwait, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Syrian government seems to have slowed preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons against rebel targets.

Panetta suggested the threat was no longer escalating, although he was not specific about any Syrian military preparations. “At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way.”

Asked whether he believed al-Assad was heeding Western warnings against using chemical weapons, Panetta said: “I like to believe he’s got the message. We’ve made it pretty clear. Others have as well.”