Syrian dilemma - terrorists fight Assad
Bob Carr said the al-Nusr Front had a "history of suicide attacks and bombings". Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Australia has listed a powerful group within the Syrian opposition as a terrorist organisation in a move that underscores the dangerous deterioration in the Middle Eastern nation.
Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr said the al-Nusra Front had links to al-Qaeda in Iraq and was targeting civilian targets. Australia would follow the United States in declaring the group, which has about 5000 fighters in Syria, a terrorist organisation.
Such recognition of the dark side to the Syrian opposition complicates the international debate about how much support the West should lend to the rebels. The al-Nusra Front is probably the most powerful single military force within the opposition battling the better-equipped forces of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Britain and France want to arm moderate factions among the Syrian rebels to even up the fight - a move critics say could put weapons in the hands of extremists.
Senator Carr said Australia was playing a leading role in the push to starve al-Nusra of funds and reduce its capacity to carry out terrorist attacks on Syrian civilians.
He said the group had a ''history of suicide attacks and bombings''.
The listing makes it a crime in Australia to give money or assets to the group, and empowers authorities to seize assets owned or controlled by the organisation.
Australia does not support arming the Syrian rebels, providing instead only humanitarian aid. But Britain and France are pushing other European countries to back the lifting of an arms embargo to Syria in a bid to provide more material support to moderate rebels.
They face stiff opposition from Germany, which fears that weapons and equipment could fall into the hands of organisations such as the Al-Nusra Front.