The leader of al-Nusra Front, one of the most powerful rebel groups in Syria, has announced that the group is breaking its link with al-Qaida and changing its name, in an apparent attempt to be removed from the US list of proscribed terror groups.
Abu Mohammed al-Jolani appeared in camera for the first time to announce his group’s name has also changed to “Jabhat Fath al-Sham” or “The Front for the liberation of al-Sham.”
“We declare the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat al-Nusra, and the formation of a new group operating under the name ‘Jabhat Fath al-Sham’ noting that this new organisation has no affiliation to any external entity,” Jolani said.
He said the change was intended “to remove the excuse used by the international community – spearheaded by America and Russia – to bombard and displace Muslims in the Levant: that they are targeting the Nusra Front, which is associated with al-Qaida”.
The release of the video on Thursday followed earlier reports that the leader of al-Qaeda had approved the split, so the Nusra forces could concentrate on their fight against the Syrian government and other rebel groups.
Al-Qaida cleared the path for al-Nusra Front to break away on Thursday, with a spokesman declaring that the group was free to do as it wished if it served the interests of those fighting Assad.
Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr, who was identified as a deputy of al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio message, saying: “We direct the leadership of al-Nusra Front to go ahead with what preserves the good of Islam and the Muslims, and protects the jihad of the Syrian people.”
US will still attack the new formation
Al-Nusra first surfaced on the internet in early 2012 to claim responsibility for suicide bombings in Aleppo and Damascus.
The well-armed group, with highly trained fighters, has since staged numerous attacks on security forces – as well as on other armed groups in the country.
It is sanctioned by the UN Security Council and listed as a “terrorist” group by the US and Russia.
Later on Thursday, the White House said its assessment of al-Nusra had not changed, despite the announcement that that the group was cutting its ties with al-Qaeda. Syria
“There continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Front’s growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both the United States and Europe,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters at a briefing.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Washington, DC, said the White House “considered Nusra a security threat” to the US and its interests. Syria
“When the US made the decision to declare Nusra a terrorist organisation [in 2014], there was a lot of criticism, notably coming from members of the Syrian opposition who said Nusra had the best trained, most effective fighters in their efforts to topple the government of [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad,” Jordan said.
“But the US government was not moved, saying that they considered its [Nusra’s] de-facto ties to al-Qaeda to be a very serious problem.” Syria