BEIRUT (TIP): The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front, announced on July 28 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 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 would change its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front of the Conquest of Syria) and 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,” said Jolani.
Clad in military fatigues and wearing a turban, the bearded Jolani expressed his gratitude to “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.
Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said 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 that will by necessity be heavily influenced by Nusra itself”, said analyst Charles Lister.
In the brief recording, Jolani, who was flanked by two bearded men, said the split from al-Qaeda was aimed at “protecting the Syrian revolution”.
He also pledged to unite ranks with other fighters in order to “liberate Syria from the oppressors”.
“We hope to form a unified body, based on the shura (Islamic law), uniting the masses of the people of Al-Sham, liberating their lands, giving victory to their faith and upholding their testimony of faith,” he said.
Lister said that one of the men sitting beside Jolani was a veteran al-Qaeda leader he identified as Ahmed Salameh Mabrouk.
“Al-Qaeda is playing a critically important role in shaping this development and their thinking and strategizing will remain crucial for this new Jabhat Fateh al-Sham movement,” he said. (AFP)