US targets Nusra Front financing with sanctions

US targets Nusra Front financing with sanctions
The US Treasury has placed sanctions on four leading Nusra Front members including controversial Saudi figure Bin-Sulayman al-Muhaysini, who has praised Donald Trump's election as a victory for the group.
3 min read
11 November, 2016
Fighters from the Nusra Front drive in Aleppo, May 2015 [AFP]

The US, on Thursday, took action to disrupt the formerly al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front’s military, recruitment, and financial operations.

In a statement put out by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) four key Nusra members -- Abdallah Muhammad Bin-Sulayman al-Muhaysini, Jamal Husayn Zayniyah, Abdul Jashari, and Ashraf Ahmad Fari al-Allak – were identified as “terrorists”  in accordance with Executive Order 13224.

As a result all property and interests in property of the four designated members of the extremist group subject to US jurdisdiction are blocked, and US citizens are prohibited from engaging in financial transations with them.

The ruling came in co-ordination with the US State Department, which also on Thursday, identified Jabhat Fateh al-Sham as an alias of the Nusra Front. In July the Nusra Front changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in a seeming effort to distance itself from negative PR generated by the group’s associations with al-Qaeda.

“From recruiting fighters to raising funds, these sanctioned individuals are responsible for providing key financial and logistical support to the Nusra Front,” said John E. Smith, Acting OFAC Director on Thursday.

“(The) Treasury will continue to target Nusra Front’s financial networks and choke off their access to the international financial system.”

Of the four identified Nusra Front leaders al-Muhaysini, who is originally from al-Qassim in Saudi Arabia, and travelled to Syria in 2013, is the best known. In US Treasury memos he is identified as a member of Nusra’s inner circle, a religious advisor to the extremist group, and is also noted to have been involved in militarily planning operations in Idlib province.

Al-Muhaysini has also presided over the mass execution of captured Syrian regime soldiers, and in April 2016 launched a campaign to recruit 3,000 child and teenage soldiers for Nusra’s cause in northern Syria.

Most recently, al-Muhaysini attracted some international attention after describing Donald Trump’s electoral win as a victory for the Nusra Front stating on Twitter: “Obama depends on the harmonization and the containment in America's internal affairs, and Trump depends on the exclusion and the abolition of his violators... May Allah increase their separation.,” adding in another tweet that “from my point of view, the victory of Trump is an important step toward the victory of Alah al-Sunnah (the Sunnis].'

While the US officially designates the Nusra Front a terrorist organisation, this designation and the enactment of airstrikes against the group in Syria has been complicated by the fact the al-Qaeda linked group enjoys good relations with numerous rebel groups, including some that have received military funding from Washington, and is regarded as amongst the most effective combat forces fighting against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.