23rd May  2017

Whitney Webb
Mint Press News

By changing its name to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda has managed to secure its removal from the U.S. and Canadian terror watchlists, allowing citizens of those countries to donate money and travel to fight with them.

WASHINGTON, D.C.– It turns out that getting off the U.S.’ and Canada’s terror watchlist is as simple as changing your name. While the terror watchlist in the U.S. has long been both secretive and controversial – as “reasonable suspicion” is enough to label any individual a “terrorist” – terrorist groups tied to al-Qaeda have found that getting off the watchlist only requires minor rebranding.

The terror group, long known to most as Jabhat al-Nusra or the al-Nusra Front, has continued to function as al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria long after Daesh (ISIS) renounced its allegiance to the group in 2014. It was first placed on the U.S. and Canadian terror watchlists in 2012.

But by changing its name to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the group has managed to secure its removal from terror watchlists in both the U.S. and Canada, allowing citizens of those countries to donate money to the group, travel to fight with them and disseminate the group’s propaganda without incident.

In response, Nicole Thompson of the U.S. State Department told CBC News last Monday that while “we believe these actions are an al-Qaeda play to bring as much of the Syrian opposition under its operational control as possible, […] we are still studying the issue carefully.”

But the State Department is likely hesitant to label HTS a terror group, even despite the group’s link to al-Qaeda, as the U.S. government has directly funded and armed the Zenki brigade, a group that joined forces with al-Nusra under the HTS banner, with sophisticated weaponry.

As CBC noted: “For the U.S. to designate HTS now would mean acknowledging that it supplied sophisticated weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles, to ‘terrorists,’ and draw attention to the fact that the U.S. continues to arm Islamist militias in Syria.”

This is just the latest attempt by al-Nusra to rebrand itself as a “moderate” group, as it has used its commitment to being “anti-ISIS” and “anti-Assad” in order to convince the U.S. and its allies to arm them. Al-Nusra has been described by mainstream media as a “moderate opposition” group fighting against the embattled government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Their efforts have paid off, as the group is being supported to various degrees by foreign governments seeking to overthrow the Assad government. For example, take the words of Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah, who told the French publication Le Monde in 2015:

“we are clearly against all extremism, but, apart from Daesh [ISIS], all [sic] these groups are fighting to overthrow the [Assad] regime. The moderates cannot say to the Nusra Front … ‘We won’t work with you.’ You have to look at the situation and be realistic.”

The U.S. government has also accepted the rebranding of al-Nusra in recent years. The U.S. effort to do so began in earnest when former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stated in 2015 that “moderate rebels” were “anyone who is not affiliated with ISIL [Daesh, ISIS].”

Since then, al-Nusra’s top commanders have asserted that they have received U.S.-made weapons, such as TOW missiles and tanks, directly from foreign governments supported by the U.S. In a 2016 interview with the newspaper Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger, al-Nusra unit commander Abu Al Ezz stated that when al-Nusra was “besieged, we had officers from Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and America here…Experts in the use of satellites, rockets, reconnaissance and thermal security cameras.”

When asked specifically if US officers were present, Al Ezz replied: “The Americans are on our side.” This assertion has been bolstered by evidence that the U.S.-led coalition’s airstrikes in Syria have only focused on Daesh and intentionally avoided al-Nusra positions.

With al-Nusra now officially removed from Western terror watchlists, foreign governments that are opposed to the Assad regime – particularly the U.S. – will be free to fund and arm al-Qaeda as they see fit, making the West’s alleged goal of creating a post-Assad “secular Syria” a remote possibility at best.



  1. Excellent site here.

    I have recently been in correspondence with Jo Johnson my MP. I asked him to explain where UK taxpayers money was going to. He came out with the same old line – the White Helmets have rescued 70,000 people (have I heard a similar figure bandied about before over ‘moderates’??) and that it is clear Assad has to go. I pointed out that I was concerned that our money was going to the same group which flew planes into buildings in 2001. And we have history – the US/UK used to have the Kosovo Liberation Organisation on its terrorist list – until of course they wanted to overthrow another government.

    I sent off a reply but don’t hold out any hope of getting back anything sensible. Especially as his brother is the buffoon running UK foreign policy..

    I would actually like to help the Syria Solidarity Group or any other group which promotes secularism in the Middle East and rejects ideology, division,, Cold War mentality,- or vested interests based on money, oil or arms..

    You can contact me on my email – I have one or two ideas and areas I might be able to help.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. THanks for your honest and intelligent analysis Vanessa. I wish there were more out there like you. I’m a Palestinian human rights campaigner in NZ and have tried to understand whats going on in Syria, but its very difficult with all the misinformation, but i do no enough about history to have realised this was very much an externally wrought regime change operation, like so many others.

    I pretty much share your views and i was talking to a friend recently and explaining that Assad actually had huge popular support among the population as evidenced by his win in elections which, i believe, had interanational observers. He dismissed this saying that they had no choice but to vote for Assad – ie there was no viable opposition.

    My question is , is this true or were there other parties contesting the election and did international observers find that the election was properly conducted? Would you mind answering this for me – thanks so much Kia kaha ( keep strong) and aroha nui ( big love) from NZ


    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s an interesting link. I think I saw an interview from Assad where he conceded that Syria was not a full democracy – but was developing. No doubt he has popular support (certainly far more than our Prime Minister got on Thursday) but I would imagine it would be hard for someone to successfully stand against him in an election..

    But we seem to have this thinking in the West that some states which don’t have fully functioning democracies should be overthrown or sidelined. If you actually think about the UK and gay and racial equality – there was none in the 50s, 60s and 70s but we have evolved into totally changing our attitudes since to where we are today. Did other more enlightened countries lecture us or threaten to invade us then if we did not immediately grant rights to gays and blacks? Of course not.,

    All countries need to evolve at their own pace without interference. And in a state like Syria which is a melting pot you have to take these things step by step. You have to remember Syria is exceptionally diverse and grants rights to all citizens regardless of religion or,race. Britain and France drew the borders for Iraq and Syria about a hundred years ago. They can’t start proposing to break up Syria now – on some notion that Assad is not democratic enough or does not respect human rights etc.

    So for me, whatever the exact state of democracy or otherwise in Syria, we need to respect the government for what it is. The fact we don’t and we support some evil ideology driven regimes like Turkey and Saudi Arabia should tell you all you need to know about UK foreign policy. It is all about arm sales, oil, money and above all – US ‘special relationship’ obsession. All very well us claiming to be modern, tolerant and liberal and holding one minutes silence after we are attacked – but not when we’re setting fire to the rest of the world through proxy wars and funding terror..


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