A Sunni extremist group that the US declared an officially recognized terrorist organization has taken the lead in the rebel fight to control the Syrian capital of Damascus.
Residents of Damascus who recently fled due to violence claim that the Nusra Front, which the Obama administration considers to be an affiliate of al-Qaeda, is at the forefront of fighting in the capital, which was until recently relatively insulated from Syria’s violent civil war.
After a year of providing limited aid to the Syrian rebels, the State Department last month designated the Nusra group terrorists, officially acknowledging the significant rise of Islamic jihadists in the Syrian opposition.
The new designation illustrated the Obama administration’s attempt to “marginalize extremists who have become an increasingly powerful military force within the opposition,” according to the Washington Post. But their prominence in the politically important Syrian capital raises serious concerns.
“Supporters of rebels fighting to topple the government of President Bashar Assad say that groups like Nusra make up only a small minority of the anti-Assad fighting force,” McClatchy News reports.
But in response to news of the State Department’s designation of al-Nusra, more than 100 separate battalions of Syrian rebels signed a petition expressing solidarity with the al-Qaeda-linked group and denouncing the US’s decision, in a reflection of how radicalized the Syrian opposition has become.
Recent reports have established that Jabhat al-Nusra, and other al-Qaeda-linked jihadist factions like it, have become a key element in the Syrian opposition, despite repeated attempts by some in Washington to paint the rebels as freedom fighters.
In October, The New York Times published an article confirming that “Most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad are going to hard-line Islamic jihadists,” despite the fact that those weapons were being sent with US approval and coordination.
“Nusra increasingly is leading the fighting across Syria,” McClatchy adds, which has resulted in sectarian bloodletting as extremist Sunni rebels march through Shiite, Christian, and other ethnic and religious minority areas.
Last month, rebels burned down a Shiite mosque, and reports of attacks on local Christian and Allawite civilians have cropped up over the course of the last few months.
Some in Washington continue to argue for a US military intervention to topple the Assad regime, or to further aid the rebel fighters. But the prospect of bolstering Islamic jihadists in such a way has forced the Obama administration to table such reckless interventionist demands.
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