Adding Islamist group to terror list could hurt Syrian rebel's efforts
A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on May 12, 2012, shows workers removing the debris following twin suicide bombings in Damascus that killed 55 people on May 10. Al-Nusra Front, an Islamist group unknown before the Syrian revolt, released a video claiming responsibility for twin suicide bombings. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
December 5th, 2012
01:19 PM ET

Adding Islamist group to terror list could hurt Syrian rebel's efforts

By Elise Labott and Tim Lister

The U.S. State Department is planning to designate the al-Nusra Front, a radical Islamist group in Syria, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, according to two U.S. officials who spoke to CNN on background.

The announcement is likely to come within the next week, the officials said. The State Department has been building the case against the group, which is called Jabhat al-Nusra in Arabic, for several months, according to the officials.

The hope is to finalize the designation just before the next so-called Friends of Syria meeting, scheduled to take place in Morocco December 12. One official said the exact timing of the announcement was still in flux.

The goal of the designation is to isolate extremists groups in Syria while giving a boost to the new political opposition group unveiled at a summit in Doha, Qatar, last month. The United States and other western governments had pushed for the formation of a new opposition group that was more representative of people inside Syria, as opposed to a group mostly comprised of Syrian expatriates.

Al-Nusra and several other groups announced their opposition to the new anti-government coalition last month. "An agreement has been reached to establish a just Islamic state and to reject any foreign project, alliances or councils that are forced on us domestically from any entity, whatever it is," the statement read.

The latest U.S. data estimates al-Nusra makes up roughly 9% of the rebel forces battling the regime.

Officials said the administration is not of one mind as to how much the group is intertwined with the rebels. They said the group has deliberately not affiliated itself publicly with al Qaeda, in an apparent effort to not paint itself as extremist.

U.S. officials say the designation of al-Nusra is an effort to highlight the good opposition and express concern about the bad guys.

"We want to put the opposition on notice that these guys are becoming more of an issue and they need to do something about them," one official said.

The al-Nusra Front has emerged as one of the most effective groups in the Syrian resistance over the last few months, often drawing on the experience of foreign fighters who have had combat experience in Iraq and elsewhere.

It has claimed responsibility for a number of complex attacks in Damascus and Aleppo, frequently involving suicide bombers.

Analysts who follow the group have told CNN recently that al-Nusra has been preparing to intensify its campaign of suicide bombings against the regime's military and intelligence facilities. At the beginning of October, al-Nusra carried out a series of devastating, coordinated attacks in Aleppo. The first phase was by suicide attackers with car bombs, followed by a gun attack by men disguised in Syrian military uniforms, and then the detonation of two parked car bombs.

Analysts believe the group has close links with al Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq. Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist now with the Quilliam Foundation in London, told CNN recently that al-Nusra's "focus now is on recruiting suicide bombers. They want to copycat the Zarqawi model."

Benotman was referring to the devastating campaign launched by al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi after U.S. troops occupied Iraq.

But units of al-Nusra have also become an important factor on the battlefield in northwestern Syria, joining other brigades of the Free Syrian Army in laying siege to and then overrunning military bases and training establishments. At least four bases have fallen to rebel forces in the last month, or are surrounded and virtually cut off from other regime forces.

This week, rebel commander Ali Jadlan told CNN's Arwa Damon that among the three brigades laying siege to a military academy near Aleppo were fighters from al-Nusra. He said they were responsible for the most dangerous area - along the road to Aleppo.

It's unclear how many fighters belong to al-Nusra. Most analysts believe it has several thousand men, predominantly in the north and east.

According to Benotman, al-Nusra has a strict vetting process for recruits, who must provide references before joining. He told CNN that the group already probably has several hundred fighters, but is looking to recruit more - including men from other rebel groups.

In September, a video emerged of several dozen Free Syrian Army fighters in Damascus announcing that they had joined al-Nusra. They said that one of the reasons they were joining was that they were impressed with al-Nusra's fighting prowess.

"When it comes to al Qaeda you need to look at the impact, not the number of fighters. The capability to carry out operations is key and here it may not be easy to compete with al Qaeda," Benotman told CNN in October.

CNN's Jamie Crawford contributed to this report

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. test

    You have made some first rate points there. I checked on the web for more info concerning the subject and found most individuals will associate with your views on this website. test http://testdomain.com

    March 17, 2013 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  2. Buffalo Bills

    On the internet sale low cost nike NFL crew jersey, or hardly ever.
    Buffalo Bills http://www.newnfljerseys-cn.com/buffalo-bills.html

    December 14, 2012 at 3:35 am | Reply
  3. gccsrtyjbfgh

    PEOPLE NEED TO LEARN THE HARD WAY IF THEY ARE PAYING ANY MIND TO WHAT THEY NEED/WANT THEY SHOULD BE ABLE TO EXPLAIN IT WHEN THEY DO I BELIVE THEY WILL SAY THE WRONG THING OUT OF IGNORANCE/LACK OF INTROSPECT i.g. CHOSING SHARIA LAW AS A MODEL FOR GOVERNING WILL ALWAYS FAIL UNLESS YOU BELIVE THAT DICTATORSHIP IS THE END GAME I REPEAT: KEEP RELIGION OUT OF GOVERNING BECAUSE IN THE MUSLIUM WORLD MUSLIUMS WILL ALWAYS CHOSE DICTATORSHIPS AS THERE FORM OF GOVERNMENT THIS HAS ABSOLUTLY NOTHING TO DO WITH THE WEST IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH HOW THINGS REALY WORK IN THE REAL WORLD

    December 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
    • Jerry

      QUIT SHOUTING!

      December 6, 2012 at 4:46 am | Reply
      • adam

        AGREEEE

        December 6, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  4. Lyndsie Graham

    Hopefully, this may hurt the chances for these so-called "rebels" to win out in Syria. These self-styled "liberators" are no more than stooges for the West who hope to establish another pro-Western, pseudo-democracy in the region! It appears that the right-wing thugs in Washington are trying to become dominant everywhere these days!

    December 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  5. Steve

    End Western interference in the middle east! Let Syrians decide when the dust settles!

    December 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  6. jamesfirass

    This is the real face of the Syrian SO-CALLED revolution.

    December 5, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Reply
    • bram

      No it's not, I assure you as a quite well-informed Syrian that it's not.. This new generation is seriously fed up with old style oppressive mentalities of the government and religious extremists.. Extremism is a function of ignorance and isolation, and Syria is no Afghanistan or Chechnya (with all due respect). That's why you see this so-called Jabha collecting all the foreign extremist fighters which most Syrians reject..

      December 8, 2012 at 4:08 am | Reply
  7. JHTFVJKUYRD

    I DONT KNOW THAT MORSEY ON HIS OWN IS A TERRORIST ALTHOUGH HE MAY HAVE WORKED WITH TERRORISTS INDIRECTLY OR DIRECTLY TO ARRIVE AT A LARGER UNSEEN OBJECTIVE WHICH IS IN DIRECT OPPOSITION TO THE GOALS AND ASPERATIONS OF A FREE EGYPT

    December 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  8. Sawsan Abdellatif

    I wish USA and the world add the Muslim Brothers and Morsi's gang to their list of terrorist groups
    . After the murders seen today by Muslim Brothers militia in the streets of Egypt, USA should stop supporting a terrorist government who has been unveiled. Please stop supporting the dictatrship in the name of legitimacy. Morsi lost his legitimacy, and remember he was brought to power by fraudulent elections.
    Enough said !

    December 5, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Reply
  9. khffgjkhfdghj

    WE MUST ALL AGREE ON WHAT A TERRORIST IS BECAUSE IF NOT PEOPLE ARE GOING TO CONTINUE TO HAVE THEIR COUNTRYS FUTURE STOLEN OUT FROM UNDER THEM ITS JUST HOW THE WORLD REALLY WORKS

    December 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  10. 28Mamerican

    Sure hope someone reads that really long post. There are some good points in it and sadly it did not post.

    December 5, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  11. Hahaahahhahah

    ALL Islameist groups are terrorist groups!!!!!! Hahahahahahahahhah

    December 5, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • adam

      Islamist groups are terrorist groups, Jewish groups started as freedom fighters and now are self defense armies defending the Western countries culture in the Middle East, Christian groups are democracy and human rights hungry groups and Islamist want to destroy our culture also in the Middle East.

      December 6, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.