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U.S. To Add Syrian Rebel Group To Terror List

The U.S. is adding a Syrian rebel group to its list of foreign terrorist organizations, a move meant to marginalize extremists who are among the groups working to oust President Bashar Assad.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reported on the move to add Jabhat al-Nusra to the list. Here's what she told our Newscast unit:

"The Obama administration has been trying to bolster the opposition coalition in Syria — but has been increasingly worried about rebels with ties to more extremists groups. That's the reason the U.S. is now labeling Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization."

Speaking at the U.S. State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland blamed the Assad regime for creating an environment that can be exploited by extremists.

"We've had concerns that al-Nusra is little more than a front to al-Qaida in Iraq, which has moved some of its operations into Syria," she said.

Last week, NPR's Kelly McEvers reported on the Islamist rebels who are among the anti-Assad coalition. The group she focused on was called Ahrar al-Sham, but her story did refer to Jabhat al-Nusra. Here's what Kelly said:

"Ahrar al-Sham isn't known for its tolerance. Aid kits for refugees include religious materials urging women to cover, and the group refused to meet with NPR's female interpreter until recently. That said, the fact that Abu Anas is even talking to me, a foreigner and a non-Muslim, is something. That plus the fact that his group believes in the people's right to choose their leaders shows that it's not the most hard-line Islamist group in this fight.

"That honor falls to Jabhat al-Nusra, a much more secretive and violent group. The group doesn't meet with the Western media. And though it claims to only attack military targets, its use of suicide bombings has killed scores of civilians. What's more, it's been approved and lauded by known al-Qaida figures online. Sources in Iraq tell NPR the group is linked to that country's branch of al-Qaida."

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