Has the Trump administration removed the Syrian wing of al-Qaeda from American terrorism lists? You could be forgiven for thinking so, after the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) revealed in a May 14 article that the United States does not consider the Islamist group Tahrir al-Sham to be a terrorist faction—but that’s a misunderstanding.
The United States remains committed to fighting jihadi influence in Syria, considers itself legally entitled to target Tahrir al-Sham members with airstrikes, and will continue to assassinate its leaders. But the U.S. State Department’s formal classification of the group is fuzzy and confusing, partly as a result of years of Islamist shell games, which has led many to think the United States is changing its stance. Even some prominent Tahrir al-Sham leaders have cheered the CBC article.
The fact remains that the United States is still treating Tahrir al-Sham as a terrorist group. To unpack this mess of misinformation, let’s take a look at the history of the al-Qaeda wing in Syria.