Zawahiri Had Publicly Suggested Such of Move in May
Believing that their public status as al-Qaeda’s formal “affiliate” in Syria has made them a target, the Nusra Front is announcing its intention to rebrand as the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or Sham Liberation Front, which itself won’t officially be affiliated with al-Qaeda’s parent organization.
Nusra has been one of the highest-profile rebel factions throughout the Syrian Civil War, and is closely allied to a number of the US-backed “moderate” factions. The group’s growth in its own right, however, has the US talking with Russia about a join move against them.
Nusra’s “rebranding” seems like a cynical attempt to get around this US-Russia operation by suddenly not being al-Qaeda, at least in name, but might conceivably work, given the number of US officials openly objecting to attacking Nusra even as part of al-Qaeda.
At the same time, the ruse is transparent, since al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a public audio statement only back in May suggesting Nusra could make a public break with al-Qaeda as a way to unify Islamists to form an “emirate” to rival ISIS. Whatever the reason, there is no suggestion this is going to leave Nusra, or whatever it calls itself, as anything but Syria’s al-Qaeda.
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