The United States Tuesday blacklisted the Al-Nusra Front, a rebel group in Syria linked to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, accusing it of being a terror group trying to "hijack" the legitimate struggle of the Syrian rebels.
In designating the group a foreign terrorist organization, the State Department said that while al-Nusra portrayed itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition, "it is, in fact, an attempt by AQI to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes."
The group has claimed responsibility for recent suicide bombings that killed scores of people, and has said it hopes to replace the Assad family's four-decade-old dictatorship with a strict Islamic state.
The US Treasury, meanwhile, announced sanctions against the leaders of both Al-Nusra and militias backing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The United States "will target the pro-Assad militias just as we will the terrorists who falsely cloak themselves in the flag of the legitimate opposition," said David Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The Al-Nusra Front is one of the most effective of several armed groups fighting to overthrow the Syrian regime, raising concerns in the West that hardline Islamists are gaining the upper hand in the 21-month-old revolt.
The State Department has linked the group to al Qaeda in Iraq, which has carried out scores of massive bombings targeting Shiite civilians and regularly targeted US forces before their withdrawal a year ago.
The Treasury Department designated two of the al-Nusra Front's senior leaders, Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al-Juburi and Anas Hasan Khattab, for sanctions.
The Treasury Department also sanctioned two armed militia groups supporting the Assad regime -- Jaysh al-Sha'bi and Shabiha -- as well as two Shabiha commanders.
"These militias have been instrumental in the Asad regime's campaign of terror and violence against the citizens of Syria," the Treasury Department said.
Jaysh al-Sha'bi "was created, and continues to be maintained, with support from Iran and Hezbollah and is modeled after the Iranian Basij militia, which has proven itself effective at using violence and intimidation to suppress political dissent within Iran," the Treasury Department said.