Al Nusra Announces Independence from Al Qaeda

The announcement follows rumors that al-Qaeda's branch in Syria has considered cutting ties with the global terror group

Nusra Front fighters in eastern Lebanon, December 1, 2015 — REUTERS
Jul 28, 2016 at 7:31 AM ET

Jabhat al Nusra, the Nusra Front, announced today that it was establishing its own jihadist organization and would no longer be under the al-Qaeda jihadist umbrella.

Speaking in a video recording excerpted for broadcast on Aljazeera’s Arabic station, Abu Mohammad al-Julani, known as the emir of Jabhat al-Nusra, announced that the organization he headed would henceforth be known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or the Front for the Liberation of Syria.

For the first time, the organization released a photo of al-Julani.

Al-Qaeda gave the Nusra Front, its official branch in Syria, its blessing to break ties with the terror group in order to “preserve the interests of Islam and Muslims and protect the jihad of the Syrian people.”

The announcement follows rumors circulated by social media accounts affiliated with the Nusra Front and by analysts that al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria has considered cutting ties with the global terror group. A Nusra Front official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the leader of the group plans to declare a split from al-Qaeda soon and merge with other insurgent groups.

On Thursday, al-Qaeda released an audio statement essentially giving the Nusra Front permission to split. “After we studied the situation in Syria from all its aspects, the political and military, the challenges, the difficulties, and the suffering of the Syrian people from killing, bombing, and displacement, we decided to invest all efforts to keep the jihad in Syria strong,” al-Qaeda’s deputy leader Ahmad Hassan Abu al-Kheir said in the statement. He added that “we call on the leadership of Nusra Front to go ahead in order to preserve the interests of Islam and Muslims and protect the jihad of the Syrian people, and call on them to take the necessary steps.”

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The Nusra Front is the second-strongest extremist group in Syria after its rival, ISIS. It has presented its priority as the ousting of the Syrian regime rather than immediately pressing al-Qaeda’s global goals. That led the Nusra Front to form local coalitions with Islamist and more moderate rebel groups such as The Army of Conquest, which has seized parts of the Idlib Province in northern Syria.

The Nusra Front’s closeness to other rebels has complicated efforts at a ceasefire in Syria, which has been suffering from civil war since 2011. The last ceasefire brokered by the U.S. and Russia did not cover the Nusra Front or ISIS, which continued to fight with Syrian regime forces backed by Russia. That led to continued fighting with other groups that were part of the truce, including ones backed by Washington and its Arab allies—one factor leading to the ceasefire’s collapse.

The Associated Press reported that that those in the Nusra Front who want to split from al-Qaeda hope that doing so could allow the group to present itself as a rebel faction and give it the chance to work with other opposition groups. That could protect it from international forces fighting against it, the AP reported.

This article was updated to reflect Abu Mohammad al-Julani’s official announcement, which was broadcast after the original article was posted.