Syria’s Nusra Front breaks ties with al-Qaeda

Islamist group’s leader says move means the US will not have an excuse to attack Syrians

The leader of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Nusra Front said on Thursday it was cutting its ties with al-Qaeda to deny foreign powers, including the US and Russia, a pretext to attack Syrians.

Listed as a terrorist organisation by the US, the Nusra Front was excluded from a truce negotiated in February.

Russia and the US are currently discussing closer co-ordination to fight the militia.

The group’s leader, Abu Mohamed al-Golani, made the announcement in a video.

“We have stopped operating under the name of Nusra Front and formed a new body . . . This new formation has no ties with any foreign party,” he said, giving the group’s new name as “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham”.

He said the step was being taken “to remove the excuse used by the international community - spearheaded by America and Russia - to bombard and displace Muslims in the Levant: that they are targeting the Nusra Front, which is associated with al-Qaeda”.

Rebel groups

Golani said the move would narrow differences between it and other rebel groups that are also fighting to topple Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Al-Qaeda's leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, had earlier given his blessing to Nusra Front to break organisational ties with the global jihadist organisation in the interest of preserving its unity and continuing its fight in Syria.

Golani thanked Zawahri for putting the interests of Muslims and the people of the Levant over organisational interests.