In a video released by Jabhat Fateh al Sham, Abu Mohammad al Joulani or Usama al-Absi announces the amicable separation of Jabhat al Nusrah from al Qaeda, thanking al Qaeda head Ayman al Zawihiri and his vice Ahmad Hasan Abu al Khayr for their understanding.
This understanding is that the al Qaeda label is toxic and Jabhat al Nusrah’s link to it is undermining the opposition fighting Syrian, Russian, Iranian, Lebanese and other affiliated forces.
- Youtube video Orient News (28 July 2016) – Front victory , Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement with al Althagaadh and the establishment of a new entity:
Abu Mohammad al Joulani made the split due to the political and military cost of being linked to al Qaeda. The group has a dominant influence on the Syrian battlefield, often spear heading attacks and widely respected by many opposition groups. Western deemed moderate groups fight alongside it regularly but are often targeted also due to their close co-operation.
Western countries will not support the group due to it being designated as a terrorist organisation and awkward for sympathetic regional countries although it does receive support regardless.
The al Qaeda brand has damaged the predominantly Sunni Muslim oppositions fight against Russian forces and the predominantly Shi’a Muslim Syrian government forces, Iranian, Lebanese, Palestinian and Afghan militias. Other pro Syrian government forces include Sunni Mulsim, Christian, Druze and other minority fighters.
This highlights it’s reputation and broad influence, in that it’s presence affects the opposition fight so directly from regular and persistent Russian and Syrian Airforce attacks.
According to Abu Mohammad al Joulani, Jabhat al Nusrah’s name has and is being used as an excuse for Syrian and Russian Air forces to repeatedly attack civilian areas. Julani says this is the main reason for the immediate cancellation of military operations under the name Jabhat al Nusrah.
He then announces the formation of Jabhat Fateh al Sham, claiming that it has no external affiliation, referring again to it’s distancing from al Qaeda. The new groups aims are to establish Sharia Law in Syria and unify the opposition fighting the Syrian government and it’s allies. It allegedly seeks to protect the oppositions Jihad and serve the Muslim population, their daily needs and relieve hardship where possible.
The change of name does not represent a change in ideology or a change to the projected aims of establishing an Islamic Emirate ruled under Sharia Law that Jabhat al Nusrah wished to see. It does not represent a break from al Qaeda in the sense of its support for al Qaeda, their ideology, their members or their aspirations. It may not represent the termination of all logistical and economic support provided by al Qaeda, time will tell on this point.
It will not change Russian, Syrian and Iranian military operations against the new group and will probably be listed as a terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council in the near future.
The name change may help politically and may be manipulated by Western or regional countries to provide overt support in some form or another but this remains to be seen. It may also help to retain and increase support from opposition groups by showing that Syria comes before any group.
Ultimately it is still al Qaeda in Syria, only the name has changed.