The U.S. State Department added 10 individuals and two groups to the Specially Designated Global Terrorists list Wednesday. Both militant groups and all but two individuals are associated with either al Qaeda or the Islamic State group in Syria. Some have been operating in Syria since as early as February 2013 and one group was founded by former Guantanamo Bay detainees.
The new designations came on the third day of a U.S.-led air campaign in Syria against the militant group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Among the individuals on the list are French national Salim Benghalem, who the State Department says is an ISIS executioner; Lavdrim Muhaxheri, a Kosovo Albanian ISIS fighter who recently posted beheading photos to his Facebook page, and Amru al-Absi, an ISIS provincial leader in charge of kidnappings in Homs and Aleppo.
While some on list are believed to be operating with ISIS in their eastern Syrian stronghold of Raqqa or in Iraq, the list included several individuals and groups operating in the major northwestern Syrian city of Aleppo. On Tuesday, the U.S. and its regional allies hit Aleppo with airstrikes reportedly aimed at crushing the Khorasan group, a little-known al Qaeda affiliate said to be planning to attack the U.S. But according to the State Department's new list, Khorasan is far from being the only terrorist group in Aleppo.
The first group on the State Department list is Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar. Founded in 2013, the group is largely made up of Russian, Chechen and Syrian fighters. JAMWA’s former leader Omar Shishani defected to ISIS at the end of November 2013, but the rest of his group reportedly did not. In July 2014, the group announced it would join forces with Ansar al-Deen, an umbrella organization of at least four militant groups. On Sept. 10, the group reportedly seized a town in Aleppo province from Assad regime forces. The group released a video purporting an attack on regime forces in Aleppo last week.
The second group on the State Department’s newest list is also thought to be operating in Aleppo. Founded by three Morocco nationals after they were released from Guantanamo Bay, Harakat Sham al-Islam has worked alongside Jabhat al-Nusra, one of al Qaeda’s branches in Syria. The group is responsible for “terrorist attacks and engaged in kidnappings against civilians,” according to the State Department.
Now that these two groups are on the list, anyone caught providing them with “material support” or “expert advice” could be charged with funding or aiding terrorism, according to the State Department. In addition, all U.S banks have to freeze and declare all their U.S. assets.
What’s more, they become another reason to continue airstrikes in Syria. Once the State Department has designated an individual or group a terrorist, “the international community is put on notice that the United States can mobilize any or all of its forces, agencies, and capabilities to do whatever it wants in the fight against the group in question,” David Brown wrote in The Week.