While everyone seems to have been pretty clear on the fact that last month’s “rebranding” by long-time al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, which renamed itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, was just a cynical effort to forestall joint US-Russian operations against them, the move appears to have been sufficient to net them a whole new collection of “moderate” rebel allies.
While a lot of the rebels publicly expressed sympathy for them even as an al-Qaeda affiliate, there were relatively few eager to overtly ally with them in Aleppo before the name change. Now, they’re awash in new partners, and Nusra leaders claim they’ve never been stronger.
Key Nusra figure Sheikh Mostafa Mahamed said the rebrand was “a necessary step forward” which allowed the group to unify with a number of other rebel factions, saying they had to get rid of “unnecessary affiliations” to grow like they have.
At the same time, it’s not like Nusra is really distancing itself from al-Qaeda in anything but a nominal way. Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, is the one who publicly proposed the rebranding strategy as a way to gather allies and form an Islamic “emirate” of their own.