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Al-Nusra Front leader revealed as Jolani announces al-Qaeda split

Abu Mohamad al-Jolani said Al-Nusra would change its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham

Date of publication: 28 July, 2016

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The head of al-Nusra Front Abu Mohammed al-Jolani announced that the Syrian rebel group was breaking ties with al-Qaeda and changing its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
The head of al-Nusra Front has revealed his identity as he announced that the Syrian rebels were breaking ties with al-Qaeda.

The jihadi outfit also changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham [Front for the Conquest of the Levant] the leader said in a statement broadcasted by al-Jazeera news channel on Thursday.

Abu Mohammed al-Jolani expressed his gratitude to the "commanders of al-Qaeda for having understood the need to break ties".

It comes as the terror group's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri gave his blessings for the Syrian affiliate to cut links with al-Qaeda.

"The creation of this new front aims to close the gap between the jihadi factions in the Levant," Jolani said. 

"By breaking our link, we aim to protect the Syrian revolution. We thank the leaders of al-Qaeda for understanding the need to break links."

His comments came just hours after al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri gave permission for the group to break ranks if it helped the jihadi group continue its battle against the Syrian regime.

Nusra's shura council reportedly voted to break ties with the al-Qaeda group after a split in its ranks emerged earlier this week following the announcement of coordinated Russia-US airstrikes against the armed group.

Analysts say Nusra aims to rebrand itself as a more nationalist - but still jihadi - oufit in order to defend itself from outside and domestic pressures. It comes as Moscow and Washington reportedly agreed to step up joint efforts against the group.

"Whatever Nusra does, its ultimate objective is to further embed itself into Syria's revolution and secure its long-term future" as a legitimate rebel group, analyst Charles Lister tweeted.

Nusra first emerged in January 2012 - ten months after Syria's conflict began with anti-government protests that were brutally repressed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

It is Syria's preeminent jihadi group, along with its key rival the Islamic State group.

But unlike IS, which opposes all those who fail to swear allegiance, Nusra has worked alongside an array of rebel groups fighting Assad's regime and has popular support.

Nusra is a key member of the al-Qaeda network, alongside North Africa's al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, based in Yemen.

But it has been eclipsed in recent years by IS due to its brutality, success on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq, and militant attacks in Europe and elsewhere.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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