Despite split from al-Qaeda, al-Nusra remains threat to Syrian population and to the West


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The split will enable al-Nusra’s propaganda machine, and will not make it any easier to challenge the terrorist organisation

Jabhat al-Nusra, a major Islamist faction fighting on the ground in Syria just announced a split with al-Qaeda.

Within Syria this move will aid al-Nusra’s propaganda narrative, while more broadly the split makes no difference in terms of the implacable Islamist ideology the group represents. Ultimately, only an end to attacks on civilians by Assad and Russia will threaten the alliance between the al-Nusra terrorist group and the Syrian population – until that point the latter will use all available partners, no matter how unsavoury.

Analysing this development Kyle Orton, Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society said: “Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, has announced that they are cutting ties with al-Qaeda, and have renamed themselves Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. By doing this al-Qaeda seeks to integrate itself more deeply into the Syrian opposition. Al-Nusra can now claim that if the West attacks it, the West is simply opposed to the Syrian revolution and to Islam.

“It has also put groups opposed to al-Nusra even more on the defensive: the link to a foreign organisation has been the primary means of opposing al-Nusra and they have now ostensibly sacrificed this for the sake of the Syrian rebellion. Henceforth, al-Nusra will be able to accuse groups who confront it of serving foreign agendas, and also of putting faction above the wider anti-Assad cause. It is desirable to target the leadership of al-Nusra and the cells plotting external attacks, but this announcement underlined the flawed assumptions behind the proposed agreement with Russia to target al-Nusra. Such direct external attacks will only strengthen al-Nusra and the Iranian-led pro-regime coalition.

“Rooting out al-Nusra requires strengthening the nationalist rebels who are native to their local areas to the point where they are no longer dependent on al-Nusra. A meaningful ceasefire, specifically the end of Russian and Assad regime air attacks on civilians, would be the first crucial step to rooting out al-Qaeda in Syria, which requires the levels of extreme violence inflicted by the pro-regime coalition to make itself an acceptable partner of necessity to the Syrian population, political space it can then use to embed itself in revolutionary dynamics and shield itself from Western reprisals if and when it conducts external attacks.”


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