Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra Front, said on Thursday it was breaking ties with the global terror network, in a video showing its leader Abu Mohamad al-Jolani for the first time.
The footage broadcast by Al-Jazeera news channel follows several days of online chatter over a split between al-Qaeda and its Syria affiliate, a main rival of the Islamic State (also known as Isil) jihadist group from which it wants to distance itself as a target of foreign air strikes.
Appearing in public for the first time, Jolani said al-Nusra changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front of the Conquest of Syria) and would unify ranks with other mainstream fighters in Syria.
“We decided to stop operating under the banner of al-Nusra and to set up a new front, called Jabhat Fateh al-Sham,” he said.
Clad in military fatigues and wearing a turban, the bearded Jolani thanked “the commanders of al-Qaeda for having understood the need to break ties.”
And he vowed the new group would “have no links whatsoever with foreign parties.”
Analysts said al-Nusra aims to rebrand and defend itself as it comes under increased pressure after Moscow and Washington agreed to step up joint efforts against jihadist groups.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said last week they had agreed “concrete steps” to save a failing Syria truce and tackle jihadists like Al-Nusra and IS.
But with the amicable break from Al-Qaeda, Jolani “can now call upon a broad spectrum of armed groups in Syria to agree to unite initiatives”, said analyst Charles Lister.
“It’s also, plain and simple, a recognition of the need to confuse one’s enemies, given US-Russian plans to begin military operations” against Al-Nusra, he said.
Washington said it still considers Al-Nusra Front a security threat despite the announcement.
“We certainly see no reasons to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby.
“They are still considered a foreign terrorist organisation,” Mr Kirby said. “We judge a group by – by what they do, not by what they call themselves.”
Source- The Telegraph