08:12 GMT01 March 2021
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    The United States denies collaborating with or providing aid to Ahrar Al-Sham in Syria amid reports the militant group has grown stronger and has close ties to US-ally Turkey.

    WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Some Western scholars and former officials have advocated working more closely with Ahrar Al-Sham. In July, former US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford suggested that the United States should engage in political dialogue with Ahrar Al-Sham about how to best form a post-Assad government.

    "The United States has neither worked with nor provided any assistance to Ahrar Al-Sham," a State Department official said on Thursday. "Though the United States has not designated Ahrar Al-Sham as a foreign terrorist organization, we continue to have concerns with regard to the group’s relations with extremist organizations."

    The official responded to a question about possible US and Turkish support for Ahrar Al-Sham considering it has become the strongest opposition force in Syria next to the Islamic State.

    Ahrar Al-Sham has fought alongside extremist groups like the al-Nusra Front against Syrian Army since the country’s civil war erupted in 2011.

    Ahrar Al-Sham has been mentioned in the same breath as the Al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front for targeting "women and children to be taken as hostages for use in prisoner exchanges," according to the State Department.

    Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s envoy to Syria, Abu Khalid al-Soury, was a member of Ahrar Al-Sham, but was killed during extremist group infighting, the State Department explained in its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism.

    More than 250,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, according to UN estimates.

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    Tags:
    al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Ahrar al-Sham, Syria, US
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