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The U.S. State Department is planning to designate the al-Nusra Front — a highly effective jihadist Syrian rebel group — as a Foreign Terrorist organisation, Elise Labott and Tim Lister of CNN report. The goal of the U.S. is to isolate extremist groups while promoting the newly recognised Syrian National Coalition so that post-Assad Syria doesn’t turn into a free-for-all.
Al-Nusra – which makes up about 9 per cent of the rebel forces – is committed to rejecting “any foreign project, alliances or councils” and establishing an Islamic state under Shariah law.
David Enders of McClatchy reports that the group includes Syrians who say they fought with al-Qaeda against the U.S. in Iraq as well as Iraqis who serve as the group’s leaders.
Members are known for devastating complex attacks in Damascus and Aleppo, frequently involving suicide bombers, and FSA officers have hailed the jihadists’ success in battle.
Not only does the group still conduct suicide bombings that have killed hundreds, but they’ve proved to be critical to the rebels’ military advance. In battle after battle across the country, Nusra and similar groups do the heaviest frontline fighting. Groups who call themselves the Free Syrian Army [FSA] and report to military councils led by defected Syrian army officers move into the captured territory afterward.
At least four bases have fallen to rebel forces in the last month, and Rebel commander Ali Jadlan told CNN that al-Nusra fighters were not only involved in the sieges but also responsible for the most dangerous area – the road to Aleppo.
Several dozen FSA in Damascus announced they that they had joined al-Nusra because of their fighting prowess. But others are very wary of the group and their Islamic ambitions, especially in the “liberated” northern areas where secular and jihadist rebel groups remove the safety on their guns as they pass each other’s military bases.
“The next war after Bashar al-Assad falls will be between us and the Islamists,” a leading rebel fighter told The Telegraph.