Max Abrams, a professor who works about terrorism, came up with this new definition of “terrorism”:
Nonstate actors who use violence against civilians for a political goal and haven’t been supported by the US.
The highlighted part is “new” to those who have not learned from history and the many occasions of U.S. support for (typically extremely right-wing) terrorist organizations like the “contras” in Nicaragua, OUN fascists in Ukraine or Jihadi Mujahedin in Afghanistan. It can indeed be argued that the U.S. created al-Qaeda as well as the Islamic State (ISIS).
But lets just be happy that people get again reminded of the issue.
Prof. Adams remark came after a report by the Canadian CBC which found that the U.S. has not designated al-Qaeda’s recently renamed organization in Syria as a “foreign terrorist entity”. HTS rules (vid) the Syrian city and governate of Idleb.
The U.S. offered a $10,000,000 reward (official pdf) for Abu Muhammad al-Joulani the founder al Al-Qaeda in Syria (aka Jabhat al-Nusra aka Jabhat Fatah al-Sham). But newly again renamed organization which he leads as the official military commander, the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), is not on any U.S. (and Canadian) terrorist entity list:
The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, currently calling itself Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has succeeded in getting itself off Canada’s list of designated terrorist entities following its latest identity shift.
[I]n January of this year, the group shifted again, nominally dissolving itself and joining with four other jihadi groups. It altered its name, changing the word “Jabhat” (Front) to “Hay’at” (Organization), and “Fateh” (Conquest) to “Tahrir” (Liberation).
The State Department did issue a statement in March, in Arabic only, branding HTS a terrorist group. But the State Department’s Nicole Thompson told CBC that was a mistake.”Though closely affiliated with al-Nusra, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is not a designated terrorist organization,” she said in an email. “The statement you found should have said al-Nusrah Front and has been corrected.”
Al-Nusra, however, no longer exists.
The non-designation will make it more difficult to prosecute members and supporters of the organization. Donations and other support to HTS are now legal. While Nusra and HTS had claimed to no longer be part of al-Qaeda (but never retracted their oath to it), scholars within those organization frequently argue for publicly admit the connection. No professional working on the issue denies that HTS is part of al-Qaeda and a terrorist group. But, apparently, the U.S. State Department does.
The CBC speculates why HTS is not (or no longer) designated:
The reasons for the reluctance to list the new al-Qaeda formation may have to do with one of its new members, the Nour ed-Dine Zenki Brigade, a jihadi group from the Aleppo governorate.The Zenki Brigade was an early and prominent recipient of U.S. aid, weapons and training.
Zenki was cut off by the State Department only after Amnesty International implicated them in killings of Orthodox Christian priests and members posted a video of themselves beheading a young boy.
A different reason seems more likely to me.
Providing material support or resources to designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations is prohibited under 18 U.S. Code § 2339B. Non-designated groups can be supplied and otherwise supported.
As long as HTS is not designated as terrorist group the CIA, and anyone else, can supply it with weapons and money without using any “Free Syrian Army” cut-outs in-between. The cut-out scheme was used and had well worked when many groups like the Zenki Brigade, then hailed as liberating heroes, delivered the CIA supplies as tribute to Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS or fought battles on their side. But the number of FSA groups has dwindled. Many closed shop, fled to Europe, or have joined either al-Nusra (in form of HTS) or the competing Ahrar al-Sham terrorist organization. A direct supply line to al-Qaeda is more convenient and will incur less losses along the way.
As long as HTS is not officially designated it will likely continue to have access to CIA delivered TOW anti-tank missiles (vid) and other heavy supplies like artillery munition. It will continue to prepare for new attacks on Syrian government forces and Syrian civilians. The Syrian government and its allies must stay alert on the issue and work on additional ways to interrupt any deliveries.