US Concerned over Al-Qaeda-linked Group in Syria

The US State Department expressed concern Thursday over the influence of fundamentalist groups in Syria, including the Al-Nusra Front, which is said to have ties to Al-Qaeda.

As opposition fighters in Syria struggle to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that groups like Al-Nusra are increasingly "a matter of concern" to Washington.

The State Department is planning to blacklist Al-Nusra within the next week, designating it as a foreign terrorist organization, CNN reported Wednesday. Toner declined to confirm the report.

"Although they make up a relatively small part of the opposition to Assad, we know that these groups, Al-Qaeda and their ilk, try to take advantage of exactly the kind of environment that Assad has fostered over the last year or so," Toner said.

Unknown before the start of the popular uprising in Syria in March 2011, Al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings that have rocked Syria, including in the capital Damascus and in the key Assad bastion of Aleppo.

Fundamentalist rebel groups, including Al-Nusra, have said they want to create an Islamic state after the current authoritarian government is removed, and reject a future government formed by other opposition groups in Syria -- an outcome Washington deems unacceptable.

"We've been very clear that they don't represent the will of the Syrian people. And it's important that the Syrian people get a government out of all this that's representative of their desires and aspirations," Toner said.

"They don't, certainly, want to trade one dictator for another."

US officials told CNN the United States hopes to blacklist Al-Nusra just before the so-called Friends of Syria meeting set to take place in Morocco on Wednesday.

The designation would aim to sideline extremist organizations in Syria while enhancing support for the new political opposition group seeking to provide a credible alternative to the Assad regime.

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