DAMASCUS, Syria, July 29 (UPI) — The al-Nusra Front, a Syrian Islamist militant group also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, on Thursday announced it separated from al-Qaida, the group founded by Osama bin Laden.
In his first recorded message released by Al Jazeera, the al-Nusra Front’s leader — Abu Mohammed al-Julani — said the militant group’s new name would be Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or Front for the Conquest of Syria/the Levant or the Front for Liberation of al-Sham.
“We declare the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat al-Nusra, and the formation of a new group operating under the name ‘Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’, noting that this new organization has no affiliation to any external entity,” Jolani said.
Al-Qaida, which was founded in 1988 by Bin Laden and other militants who fought against the Soviet Union during the Soviet-Afghan War, previously said it supported a split from the group. Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr, al-Qaida’s second in command, said it instructed “the leadership of the Nusra Front to go ahead with what protects the interests of Islam and Muslims and what protects jihad” in Syria.
Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri had a brief message in the video, stating: “The brotherhood of Islam is stronger than any organizational links that change and go away.”
Julani accused the United States and Russia of using the al-Nusra Front as an excuse to bomb other rebel groups in Syria, and the group wanted to eliminate that reason. He said he thanked the “commanders of al-Qaida for having understood the need to break ties,” adding that the decision was made to “expose the deception of the international community, namely the U.S. and Russia, in their relentless bombardment and displacement of the Muslim masses of Syria under the pretext of bombing al-Nusra Front.”
After the al-Nusra Front — which mainly fights the Syrian government but has at times clashed with the Free Syrian Army rebel group — announced the split, the United States said the move would not change its assessment of the group.
“The United States continues to assess that Nusra Front leaders maintain the intent to conduct eventual attacks in and against the West and there continues to be increasing concern about Nusra Front’s growing capacity for external operations that could threaten both the United States and Europe,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby said “We certainly see no reasons to believe that their actions or their objectives are any different.”
“They are still considered a foreign terrorist organization. We judge a group by what they do, not by what they call themselves,” Kirby said.
The al-Nusra Front was not included in an unsteady cease-fire agreement between the Syrian government and a consolidated group of rebels. The Islamic State was also not included in the cease-fire.