Report: US-backed Syrian opposition wants rebel group off US terror list

Members of the The Syrian Opposition Coalition demanded the White House remove Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) from the State Department's terror list during a high-level meeting with U.S., Western and Arab diplomats in Morocco on Wednesday. 

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"The decision to consider a party that is fighting the regime as a terrorist party needs to be reviewed," coalition official Mouaz Alkhatib  said during the "Friends of Syria" meeting, according to Reuters. 

"We might disagree with some parties and their ideas and their political and ideological vision. But we affirm that all the guns of the rebels are aimed at overthrowing the tyrannical criminal regime," he added, referring to longtime Syrian president Bashar Assad. 

A radical Islamic group with known ties to al Qaeda cells in the region, JAN members have been fighting alongside Syrian rebel fighters battling Assad's government forces during the 20-month civil war in the country, in an attempt to oust the embattled leader. 

JAN gunmen have hammered government positions near the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and elsewhere across the country, reportedly with the support of Turkish forces stationed near the Turkish-Syrian border. 

Alkhatib's comments come days after President Obama officially recognized the coalition as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people in opposition to the Assad regime."

"It's a big step," Obama said during an interview with ABC News on Tuesday. 

"Obviously, with that recognition comes responsibilities ... to make sure that they organize themselves effectively, that they are representative of all the parties, [and] that they commit themselves to a political transition that respects women's rights and minority rights," the president added. 

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Joe Lieberman (I-Ct.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) praised the administration for making the move, calling it "an essential, and long overdue, step in the right direction for our Syria policy" in a statement issued Wednesday.  

However, days before President Obama's announcement, State Department officials placed JAN on its list of active terrorist organizations -- placing the group on par with groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Haqqani Network. 

Under State Department mandates, JAN members are banned from receiving any material support from the U.S. citizens and any of the group's assets located in U.S. territories are now frozen. 

The State Department's decision to put the al Qaeda affiliate on the terror list could prove problematic for the White House, given the Obama administration's relationship with the coalition. 

As the officially recognized political authority in Syria, the United States could begin shipping weapons and providing military support to the rebels as part of the White House's political ties with the organization.

If Washington decides to go down that road, it remains unclear how Pentagon and White House officials could arm members of the Syrian opposition while maintaining the ban on U.S. support to JAN forces. 

Al Qaeda's growing influence among Syria's rebels is one of the main reasons why Washington has backed off military support to opposition forces. 

In October, a classified U.S. review found the majority of small arms and munitions already sent to Syrian rebels by Arab nations have fallen into the hands of terror groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra and others. 

Those reports in October coincided with news that formerly disparate groups of al Qaeda militants operating in Syria are now coordinating themselves into functional terror cells.