Al-Golani Appeared on TV

Syria's Former Nusra Front Renamed and SEPARATED from Al Qaeda

Fri Jul 29, 2016 09:48:11

Syrian terrorist group Jabhat al Nusra or Al Nusra Front has announced it is severing ties with al Qaeda and changing its name to Jabhat Fateh Al Sham, according to a video statement from leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani.

Though Golani, in his first video appearance, said the new group will have "no affiliation to any external entity," U.S. officials quickly dismissed the rebranding as a public relations ploy.

The supposed breakup comes less than two weeks after Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States and Russia had agreed to cooperate in Syria against al Nusra in an effort to "restore the cessation of hostilities, significantly reduce the violence and help create the space for a genuine and credible political transition" in the war-ravaged country.

Al Qaeda has given the split its blessing, according to veteran Egyptian operative Ahmad Hasan Abu al Khayr al Masri, who has been elevated to the No. 2 leadership position in the terror group. Masri spoke in an audio message released Thursday by al Nusra.

The man Masri would replace, al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri, in a separate message also expressed support for the decoupling and called for infighting between jihadist groups to end.

Hasan Abu al Khayr al Masri

Golani said the change does not represent an ideological split. Instead, it was intended to remove the excuse used by the international community -- led by the United States and Russia -- to "bombard and displace Muslims ... under the pretense of targeting Jabhat al Nusra."

The group emerged in late 2011 during the early days of the Syrian civil war and was initially largely made up of battle-hardened Syrians who had traveled to Iraq to fight US troops during the American engagement there.

It has become one of the most effective factions fighting the Syrian givernment and currently controls swaths of northwestern Syria.

In 2012, the State Department added al Nusra Front to the list of aliases for al Qaeda in Iraq, which had already been designated a foreign terrorist organization.

The name change does not alter Washington's perception of the group, according to the State Department.

"We judge any organization, including this one, much more by its actions, its ideology, its goals," State Department spokesman John Kirby said of al Nusra.

Source: CNN