WASHINGTON (Web Desk) – The US State Department has refused to comment on the visa records of a Syrian militant group chief who reportedly had no trouble entering Washington on a European passport.
Labib al Nahhas, who calls himself “a chief of Foreign Political Relations at Ahrar al-Sham,” arrived in the US capital for a visit lasting a few days in December, according to McClatchy DC news.
Despite the group’s links to ISIS and Al-Qaeda, the Syrian militant’s inclusion on the terror list was reportedly blocked by the US.
Quoting one of the four people with direct knowledge of the trip, the media report suggested that Nahhas arrived in the US to speak with “third parties”. The other sources revealed that Nahhas had visited Washington to meet with lobbyists and Middle East researchers.
Born in Madrid to a Syrian Muslim father and educated in the UK, Nahhas has been using his European roots to reach out to western officials on behalf of Ahrar al-Sham, a group which has fought in alliance with Al-Qaeda-linked fighters, the RT reported.
In mid-May, Ahrar al-Sham admitted its involvement in a brutal raid at an Alawite Syrian village, reportedly alongside fighters from internationally-recognized terrorist group, the Al-Nusra Front.
Well-versed in social media and fluent in English, Nahhas has been spreading Ahrar al-Sham’s agenda on Twitter and via op-eds in respected publications such as Britain’s The Daily Telegraph.
According to State Department’s spokesperson Mark Toner, his office did not know about it at all. “I’m not sure that we were aware of it,” he told the Russia Today.
“I don’t believe he had any meetings here, certainly, but – and I can’t speak to visa records. It’s a privacy consideration, so I don’t have much detail I can share with you regarding whether he received a visa to come here.”
While Nahhas’ visit still might seem suspicious given the US’s scrutiny when it comes to visitors with suspected terror links, the Syrian opposition does not consider this visit unusual. As one opposition official explained, Ahrar al-Sham was “not among US-designated terrorist groups.”
Yet in Washington, Ahrar al-Sham’s links to recognized terrorists are well-known. In fact, the US shielded the group from the United Nations’ blacklist, which would officially exclude it from the Syrian ceasefire and allow it to be attacked along with Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.
On May 11, Washington blocked a Russian proposal to the UN to delegitimize Ahrar al-Sham along with another group called Jaysh al-Islam over their regular violations of the Russia-US brokered ceasefire. The US’ decision was supported by Britain, France and Ukraine.