A Senior Ahrar al Sham Commander Visited US Officials in December

A Senior Ahrar al Sham Commander Visited US Officials in December
Sat May 21, 2016 15:03:20

Labib al Nahhas, foreign affairs director for the “Islamist fighting group” Ahrar al Sham linked to Nusra Front (Al-Qaeda official wing in Syria), 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 US relations with Syrian terrorist.

"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 Al-Qaida commander", Hannah Allam wrote for "mcclatchydc.com".

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.

“They’re treating Labib al Nahhas as an individual, and it’s also useful to have someone to talk to on the other side,” said Faysal Itani, a Syria specialist with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, who said he’d known about Nahhas’ visit. “They could make, quickly, the decision that he’s persona non grata in the United States and yet they haven’t.”

The State Department declined to answer whether any U.S. officials knew in advance or expressed reservations about Nahhas’s presence in Washington, or whether State Department officials had assisted his entry.

For months, Nahhas, serving as "Ahrar’s ambassador to the outside world", has flown to foreign capitals and penned op-eds showing a willingness to work with the West, only to see his efforts undermined by the military wing of the group.

Last summer, only a month after Nahhas pledged Ahrar’s commitment to a “moderate” future for Syria, the group issued a statement praising the late Taliban chief Mullah Omar as the embodiment of “the true meanings of jihad and sincerity.”


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