The Syrian franchise of the organization involved in the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington has long gone by the name Jabhat al-Nusra (Nusra Front), and was sent into Syria by the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi went on to launch the rival breakaway group ISIS, while Nusra maintained its status as al-Qaeda's boots on the ground in the war against the Syrian government.
In 2015 the group decided to re-brand itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham while, as reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, continuing to incorporate smaller organizations into its structure. This is one of the reasons for the failure of last year's cessation of hostilities in Syria: the "moderate" fighters and the legitimate terrorists were so inter-mingled that it was impossible for the US to separate them. But the State Department did not buy into the PR makeover of al-Qaeda and designated al-Sham a terrorist organization as well.
Then, early this year, al-Shams decided on a new rebranding and decided to name itself Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The leader of the new group is the same old leader, and is listed by the US as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" with a $10 million bounty on his head.
But strangely enough, the US has not designated the new organization a terrorist organization even as it warns off other groups seeking to join the newly branded al-Qaeda in Syria.
Why is that?
Again from the Canadian state news agency:
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.You read that right: The reason the US cannot designate al-Qaeda in Syria as a terrorist group is because that would make the US legally responsible for having supplied a terrorist group with extremely sophisticated weapons and training. The US is arming and training terrorists in Syria, but instead of just getting out it is pretending that al-Qaeda is not a terrorist organization.
The Zenki Brigade was an early and prominent recipient of US aid, weapons, and training. ...
For the US to designate HTS now would mean acknowledging that it supplied sophisticated weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles to "terrorists," and draw attention to the fact that the U.S. continues to arm Islamist militias in Syria.
h/t Josh Landis