Dec 11 (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday designated radical Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization and said it was trying to hijack the rebellion on behalf of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al Qaeda in Iraq or Islamic State of Iraq as the group is also known, is one of several Sunni Islamist insurgent groups still fighting in Iraq since the withdrawal of the last American troops a year ago.
Here is a look at the group:
* The group was founded in October 2004 when Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi pledged his faith to Osama bin Laden. An Egyptian, Abu Ayyab al-Masri, is said to have become the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq after Zarqawi was killed in 2006.
* In October 2006, the al Qaeda-led Mujahideen Shura Council said it had set up the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella group of Sunni militant affiliates and tribal leaders led by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. In April 2007 it named a 10-man "cabinet", including Masri as its war minister.
* High-profile attacks in 2009 and 2010 demonstrated the group's relevance in the wake of the coalition withdrawal from Iraqi cities. AQI's top two leaders, Abu Ayyub al-Masri and Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, were killed in April 2010, but the group continued to launch attacks. In May 2010 AQI named Al-Nasir Lidin Allah Abu-Suleyman as replacement leaders.
* Though weakened by years of fighting American and Iraqi forces, security experts have said that the al Qaeda wing has gained new life from the 20-month-old Syrian uprising against President Bashar al Assad, which is drawing funds and Sunni Islamist fighters to its cause.
* Al Qaeda in Iraq is hostile to Shi'ites in general, especially the Shi'ite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Assad's minority Alawite sect. The group sees Shi'ite Islam as a heretical oppressor of Sunnis in the region.
Sources: Reuters/Janes's World Insurgency and Terrorism/http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/aqi.html (Reportng by David Cutler and Patrick Markey)