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Syria’s al-Nusra Rebels Announce Split From al-Qaeda

The former leader of Syria’s al-Nusra front, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, announced a split from parent organization al-Qaeda (Al Jazeera), saying in a video address that “this new organisation has no affiliation to any external entity.” Jolani announced a new name of Jabhat Fath al Sham, or The Front for liberation of al Sham, and said the split was to remove any pretext for the United States or Russia to carry out airstrikes in Syria against the broader opposition while claiming to target the al-Qaeda affiliate (WaPo). White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States would likely not alter its assessment of the militant group and continues to have “increasing concern” about its ability to carry out operations in the United States and Europe.


“Whether the new name will work to persuade moderate rebels — and, more importantly, their Western backers — that the group should no longer be considered a terrorist organization is in doubt. It is also highly unlikely to convince Russia, which has consistently referred to all rebels as ‘terrorists’ and has been escalating its bombardments of rebel positions in recent weeks, notably around the besieged northern city of Aleppo,” Liz Sly and Karen DeYoung write for the Washington Post.

“Nusra has been one of the most effective anti-government factions in Syria’s civil war, particularly in the country’s north. However, both the US and Russia have designated the group as a terrorist organisation because of its affiliation to al-Qaeda, allowing them to bomb Nusra fighters. The split appears to be an attempt by Nusra to attract other opposition groups to unify with it, just as the US and Russia have reportedly agreed to target Nusra and the Islamic State (IS) militant group,” Dania Akkad writes for Middle East Eye.

“Civilian casualties from airstrikes by the US-led coalition fighting Isis have spiked in the past two months, activists and rights groups have warned, after the US said it was investigating a village bombing that appears to be one of the deadliest single air attacks on civilians of the entire war. The rising toll from coalition bombs is alienating Syrians on the ground and risks undermining the fight against the extremists, critics say,” Emma Graham-Harrison writes for the Guardian.