Following reports earlier this week that they would do so, the Nusra Front’s leader Abu Mohamad al-Golani has announced publicly that his group is officially ending its status as the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, and will insist on being called Jabhat Fatah al-Sham from now on.
Golani, a former ally of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, formed Nusra as al-Qaeda’s faction involved in the Syrian Civil War. After Baghdadi attempted to absorb Nusra into ISIS, the groups split, and ISIS cut off connections with al-Qaeda. Nusra, however, has remained an affiliate since then, establishing a stronghold around Idlib Province in northern Syria.
Golani insisted that the change was designed to “remove the excuse used by the international community” to attack Muslims in the country on the grounds that Nusra is “associated with al-Qaeda,” suggesting that the US and Russia’s reported deal to coordinate attacks on them was a factor.
How sincere the separation was is unclear, as al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri suggested the exact same thing back in May, saying Nusra might benefit from publicly disassociating itself from al-Qaeda, and that the parent group was fine with this and would continue to support them within Syria.
The renaming makes Jabhat Fatah al-Sham one of several rebel factions whose leadership are openly allied with al-Qaeda’s parent organization, but which are not, in and of themselves, formally part of al-Qaeda. Golani appears to be betting this will be enough to remove them as a target, and indeed it may as other such factions have been openly endorsed by the US and its allies as “moderate rebels.”
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