A senior figure from a Syrian rebel group with links to al Qaida was allowed into the United States for a brief visit, raising questions about how much the Obama administration will compromise in the search for partners in the conflict.
Labib al Nahhas, foreign affairs director for the Islamist fighting group Ahrar al Sham, spent a few days in Washington in December, according to four people with direct knowledge of the trip and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of U.S. relations with Syrian rebels.
His previously undisclosed visit is a delicate matter for both sides – the conservative Salafist insurgents risk their credibility with even perceived ties to the United States, and the U.S. government risks looking soft on screenings by allowing entry to a member of an Islamist paramilitary force.
National security analysts say U.S. authorities likely knew of Nahhas’ arrival – intelligence agencies for years have watched his group’s interactions with al Qaida’s Syrian branch, the Nusra Front.
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from the Guardian
A Spanish citizen who studied in Birmingham and headed a tech company based in a London suburb is leading efforts to rebrand one of Syria’s most prominent armed Islamist opposition groups.
Labib al-Nahhas is the “foreign affairs minister” for Ahrar al-Sham, a group that has fought in alliances with al-Qaida’s Syrian franchise, and aims to establish a Sunni theocracy in Syria. One of its original leaders also had personal connections with Osama bin Laden.
His role sends him around western capitals arguing that his group is an ultra-conservative but legitimate part of the opposition, using his own European roots to reach out to diplomats wary of the group’s history and beliefs.
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“In American law, providing material support for terrorism is a crime prohibited by the USA PATRIOT Act and codified in title 18 of the United States Code, sections 2339A and 2339B. It applies primarily to groups designated as terrorists by the State Department. The four types of support described are “training,” “expert advice or assistance,” “service,” and “personnel.”
And the spokesman for the State Department has nothing to say about Labib al-Nahhas being allowed to run around drumming up support for a known Salafist terror organization with proven ties to al-Qaeda?
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