U.N. adds Syrian militant al-Nusra Front to sanctions list

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The U.N. Security Council on Friday blacklisted Syrian militant group al-Nusra Front and added it to its global sanctions list because of its links to al-Qaeda.

The group, a feared force battling President Bashar al-Assad, is now subject to an international asset freeze and arms embargo, according to an announcement made by the Security Council’s al-Qaeda sanctions committee.

France and Britain jointly sought al-Nusra’s designation after blocking a demand by the Syrian government.

Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani last month pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, confirming suspicions of ties between the rebel group and the militant group founded by the late Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. government designated al-Nusra a terrorist organization last year and added al-Jawlani to its terrorist blacklist this month.

Western nations are acting against al-Nusra in a bid to shore up moderate opponents of Assad. The 26-month old Syrian conflict has left more than 94,000 dead, according to Syrian activists.

Experts have said al-Nusra gets aid from al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate and the Security Council announcement specifically mentions links to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The Islamist element of the Syrian conflict poses a quandary for Western powers and their Arab allies, which favor Assad’s overthrow, but are alarmed at the growing power of militant Sunni Muslim fighters whose anti-Shi’ite ideology has fuelled sectarian tensions in the Middle East.

While Assad has repeatedly labeled opposition forces as “terrorists,” Western powers have backed non-Islamist rebel fighters by providing aid and non-lethal assistance.

On Monday, the European Union effectively lifted an arms embargo that could allow countries to arm certain rebel forces by failing to agree to renew it.